Music Reviews
Here and Nowhere Else

Cloud Nothings Here and Nowhere Else

(Carpark / Mom & Pop) Rating - 9/10

There was a good while when I thought that Steve Albini’s affiliation with Cloud Nothings would end up being more of a curse than a blessing. The legendary punk legend/producer/loud mouth was a central point of discussion regarding the band and their still glorious 2012 release Attack on Memory, which was engineered by Albini, and it seemed that a lion’s share of the credit for Cloud Nothing’s transformation from Dylan Baldi’s lo-fi bedroom-rock pet project to a full band indie rock powerhouse was given to Albini just for appearing in the credits. It seemed unfortunate that, despite Baldi’s claims that Albini basically sat at his soundboard playing Scrabble on his phone during the recording sessions, Attack on Memory would be known to most more as an “Albini” record rather than a Cloud Nothings record, thus putting their newly built legacy in his hands as well.

But any thoughts that Cloud Nothings were simply “Albini-fied” into a great band are quickly made obsolete with the torrential force of Here and Nowhere Else, in which Albini was swapped out of production duties for John Congleton. Of course, equipping the guy who produced The Seer – perhaps the current decade’s most intensely harrowing album yet – might still tempt some to pass on the credit, but doing so would only further insult the great strides Baldi & Co. have made since they joined forces and transformed the Cloud Nothings agenda. From Baldi’s unimpeachable hooks to the furious, power chord-heavy guitar work to some of the most vital drumming heard on a rock record in years, everything on display in Here and Nowhere Else is the work of a great band pulling out all the stops and proving they – and they alone – are a force to be reckoned with.

I understand that many of the characteristics I just used to describe Here and Nowhere Else – the hooks, the roaring guitars, the heart-racing drums – would aptly describe Attack on Memory pretty neatly, and it’s true that the band stays firmly committed to their blend of indie pop, post hardcore, emo, and indie rock of the 90’s persuasion. So yes, it’s true that Here and Nowhere Else doesn’t have the same initial “wow” factor of hearing Baldi screaming at the top, but Cloud Nothings still exhibit enough growth throughout to make for an even more exhilarating experience than previously.

For instance, despite being stripped to a single-guitar act and lacking that so-called “Albini magic” this time around, the band overall sounds fuller and meaner. TJ Duke’s bass has this sharp, elastic-y crunch to give it more distinction, and Baldi has adapted his guitar playing into something a bit more idiosyncratic but always filling in the spaces with lush, ringing distortion. Then, of course, there’s drummer Jason Gerycz, whose kit seems to be constantly exploding with the force and brilliance of a firework display and whose expertly-timed fills sound like machine guns with the trigger jammed. Even Baldi’s voice, undoubtedly still carrying that snotty, bratty inflection you either love or hate, has developed an even grittier tone, and the rate at which the man bursts into a blood-curling scream is more frequent and sporadic than ever before. Ultimately, Here and Nowhere Else is the sound of three musicians finally nailing their individual and collaborative voice to a T, and then just letting it all out with total abandon.

The biggest growth on display in Here and Nowhere Else, however, is in the songwriting department, as the band makes a conscious effort to keep things consistent and lively throughout. Despite Attack on Memory being stylistically rooted mainly in one place, it’s easy to forget how many places Cloud Nothings managed to take that style in a mere eight songs. You had your all-out, monsoon inducing rager (Wasted Days), your scrappy little twee-pop moment (Fall In), your manic-depressive “ballad” (No Future/No Past), and your dissonant, no BS sludge pit (No Sentiment), all with the same reference point but never even in the same area code.

While this was undoubtedly a selling point for Attack, it’s nice to see Baldi and Co. pulling things more towards the center to make eight cohesive and constantly thrilling tracks, all of which carrying a unified thumb print but never blur together. Nothing ever quite scorches the earth with unabashed fury like Wasted Days or is as primarily catchy as Fall In, but stand outs like Quieter Today, Just See Fear, and No Thought instead take equal, vibrant dosages from both and squeezes them into distinct three-minute statements that are as irresistibly catchy as they are rabidly punishing.

It’d be tempting for naysayers to call the album formulaic or even boring in how rigidly Cloud Nothings stick with their three-minute 90’s rock bombardments, but that would be ignoring just how effectively the band can still surprise when you least expect it. For instance, Psychic Trauma begins with a shimmering guitar lead and Baldi’s longing croon, but after an all-too unassuming 40 seconds, the tempo skyrockets and builds into one of the band's most rapturous and cathartic moments. Even more substantial – though less obvious – is Patter Walks, the album's eight minute epic, which seems to follow in the footsteps of counterpart Wasted Days until its last few minutes, bursting into a finale not scathing like its predecessor, but celebratory, with a bright, angelic melody casting the band's carnage in a warm rosy hue.

I remember hearing Dylan Baldi remarking that Here and Nowhere Else is a much more positive record than Attack – that nothing bad was really going on in his life at the time and he basically wrote about what made him happy – and at first, I totally didn’t buy it. With his guitar coated in uncompromising  layers of distortion and lyrics that – while not as angsty as Attack – certainly contain their fair share of insecurity and uneasiness ("I can feel your pain and I feel alright about it, You don’t really seem to care and I don’t even talk about it, I’m not telling you all I’m going through," etc.), Baldi hardly comes off with much more of a sunny disposition this time around. But despite this, it’s hard not to listen through Here and Nowhere Else with a smile on your face, as the hooks and instrumentation are just so incredibly lively and infectious it makes the whole album a momentous, front to back blast. Cloud Nothings might still be young and quite indebted to their 90’s influences, but their latest shows they’ve already mastered all the qualities of a truly great rock band and all of their contradictions: fury, angst, precision, sloppiness, catchiness and, of course, fun.