As a modern punk band, Cloud Nothings represent everything and nothing: they’re corrosive and brazen, but in a way that builds presence and feeling, with all self-righteousness left at the door. Since Dylan Baldi founded the band as a solo project in 2009, Cloud Nothings has seen growth and stillness in equal measures – from being picked up by Washington DC indie giants Carpark Records to losing a key member Joe Boyer along the way. Since the band’s beginning, Baldi has seemed to identify with being a musical loner above anything else; Cloud Nothings records always carry the running theme of isolation and trying to find your place in the world, for better or for worse.
Fast-forward seven years, and Cloud Nothings are one of the few bands within their sphere that haven’t flinched in standard. In between the raucous, low-slung songs, Baldi has weaved a narrative where he self-examines every aspect about himself, leaving no space for brutality or skepticism on his journey. His unique brand of nihilism is one that practices acceptance – it’s specifically welcomed at times – and that’s a sentiment that also translates into Cloud Nothings’ fourth studio album, Life Without Sound.
It’s an album that still sounds unequivocally Cloud Nothings – it’s galloping and brash, but added textures and more-lethargic-than-usual outros create drama to the tenor of the record. On the whole, Life Without Sound is a statement about release – release from yourself, from tension, from defeat, from life. Baldi – both through his lyrics and the music – is coming to terms with everything; he’s admitting vulnerability through his lyrics in more complex ways than Cloud Nothings have ever done before.
The first instrument you hear in the entire record is a lonely piano line from ‘Up To The Surface’, where the atmosphere of what is to come is laid out bare. Although the song is drenched in metaphor – “I saw life in the shadow of foreign lines / I knew peace in the terror of the mind” – its composition reads like the classic narrative of a saga: there’s a problem, there’s a struggle, and then there’s resilience. Despite the cinematic motifs of its opening track, the album that follows is tense and thrillingly conflicted. ‘Things Are Right With You’ is a sunnier, more optimistic take, with Baldi repeating, “feel right, feel lighter” in a put-your-arms-around-your-friends chant.
Speaking of the album, Baldi said that he realized he was missing something important in his life, a part that he didn’t realize he was missing until it was there, which is why he chose the title Life Without Sound. There are references – both directly and indirectly – to this phrase that are used to inspire and assert the important space they occupy in new age music. In freeing themselves of the shackles of worry their previous records exhibited, Cloud Nothings now show their desire to live in the present moment, which resulted in their most self-aware record yet.
Life Without Sound ends on a note of mutual understanding. The final song, ‘Realize My Fate’, never truly climaxes; in fact, it does the exact opposite. It starts with unbearable tension and creates a thrashy mess laced with distortion pedals, sporadic drums and out-of-tune anger. As the song continues, his singing becomes hardcore punk scream-shouting, until his final words: “I find it hard to realize my fate / and when it comes? / I won’t be going straight”. At this point, it feels like you’re helplessly watching a violent tornado form outside your house, waiting for everything in your life to be destroyed, and there’s nothing you can do about it. First comes the shock, then the pain, then all-encompassing acceptance. As the record winds down with a quiet, thoughtful guitar line, you can’t help but feel like this was your battle too. It looks like Cloud Nothings, treading through darkness and futility, have finally found their light.
Live: KOKO – March 21st