“Water scares me ’cause you don’t really know what’s in there,” proclaims Dylan Baldi, discussing the cover art of Life Without Sound. “There’s scary stuff in there; there could be some kind of prehistoric monster in there. I don’t know, I’m not going down there, I’m not going swimming.” The Cloud Nothings leader is off on a mini tangent about oceanic perils and whatnot, but he’s got a good point; the sea is as uncertain as the rest of the world he’s spent his life trying to make sense of.
But instead of trying to extrapolate any kind of certainty from the uncertainty, the recently released fourth studio album from the Cleveland, Ohio rockers is “about coming to terms with the fact that you’re not going to be able to curate your life perfectly” and generally just having to “deal with it” says Dylan. He admits it’s a bleak message to take away from a record, but Life Without Sound ultimately transpires to be every bit as fulfilling as each of Cloud Nothings’ previous LPs, and altogether more hopeful. “It’s a light at the end of the tunnel sort of record,” he adds.
Recorded right on the Mexican border in El Paso, Texas, Dylan views Life Without Sound as the third instalment in a “trilogy” of albums – completed by 2014’s Here and Nowhere Else and 2012’s Attack On Memory. And while its predecessor “was pretty spastically written” in time between “hectic, stupid touring schedules”, Life Without Sound came into being after the group were afforded some much-needed breathing space.
“We didn’t have to put out another record at all,” Dylan laughs, looking back on the well earned downtime that came after two years of relentless gigging and the release of Here and Nowhere Else. “I didn’t know what to do for a little while so I just took some time to kind of goof around.” As he’s quick to point out, though, he was writing throughout. You didn’t really think Cloud Nothings were ever close to calling it a day, did you?
Their return to the UK sees them – unsurprisingly – play their biggest headline show on these shores yet. 1,400 of their devoted British following will pack into KOKO to witness up close and personal an album that Dylan describes as the perfect soundtrack for “driving around in a bleak suburb.” One of London’s grandest venues makes for quite a contrast in surroundings, but it will no doubt sound just as perfect beneath gilded balconies and a giant glitter ball as it did in the suburban streets of Cleveland.
Writing for Life Without Sound began after Dylan had returned the States from a stint living in Paris – and while he might have been back in his homeland, he wasn’t home. Instead, he found himself all alone in western Massachusetts – well, alone save for a “shitty acoustic guitar” he’d bought himself. “I played it all the time,” he reminisces with a muffled laugh, “and I didn’t do much else while I was there, except for take long hikes in the woods, and think about why I didn’t know anybody.” On the face of it, it doesn’t sound like the happiest of times.
“I was kind of embarrassed by it for a long time, but now it just kind of feels normal.”
But as Dylan emphasises, Life Without Sound is an album through which he’s really come to be at one with himself in a way. “This is the first record where I was comfortable being like, ‘Well, I guess I just make records, I guess that’s my job’,” he explains. “I was kind of embarrassed by it for a long time, but now it just kind of feels normal.”
That acceptance that Cloud Nothings is ‘what he does’ might best explain why this latest offering is how it is. It’s calmer in a way, quieter even – certainly by comparison to the moments of intense, all-consuming noise that were a notable feature of earlier releases. “I wasn’t feeling noisy when I made these songs,” Dylan reflects, alluding to sprawling, epic cuts like Attack On Memory’s ‘Wasted Days’ and Here and Nowhere Else’s ‘Pattern Walks’. “Making that kind of stuff isn’t that hard for us,” he continues, “[but] it’s just not that exciting for me to do something that isn’t difficult in some way. I wanted these songs to just be normal songs, but without being boring. I wanted to not rely on a noise crutch to make things interesting.”
Life Without Sound may wrap up one trilogy, but it equally serves as the start of the next phase in Cloud Nothings’ continuing story. As Dylan says, it marks an emergence from the “weird malaise” that’s fed into so much of what’s come before. But they’ve been through the tunnel now; they’ve found the light; the most exciting part of all is what they do with it next.