Cloud Nothings have swollen to a quartet in the unusually lengthy interim period between Here and Nowhere Else and Life Without Sound. The powerhouse trio of Baldi, bassist TJ Duke and drummer Jayson Gerycz are now joined by Chris Brown on guitar. On Life Without Sound, there’s brevity and economy where once there was often sprawling, dense, angst ridden rants.
Opening with glacial sounding piano, calling to mind Attack On Memorys’ ‘No Future/No Past’, ‘Up To The Surface’ gives way to a rewarding crunch along with a more reserved vocal delivery from Baldi, while we are treated to the first in a series of show-stopping performances from the impeccable rhythm section, justly taking their place in the foreground. Where previously it was principally pop hooks laden with bile, now there is less emphasis on the invective and an increased focus on the scaffolding of melody. There’s little details layered throughout, from the unexpected acoustic guitar underpinning the understated yet strident ‘Enter Entirely’ to the arresting coda of ‘Sight Unseen’ that evidences a songwriter more in thrall to melody than ever before, and even the guitar solos, more prominent than ever before that display clearly the influence of J Mascis and Rivers Cuomo like never before.
Following on from the early days of home recorded jangle laden with fuzz, Life Without Sound marks the full bloom of a process commenced with 2012’s Attack On Memory, recorded by Steve Albini, the first full band Cloud Nothings effort and progressed further by 2014’s Here And Nowhere Else. Where ‘…Memory’ and ‘Here…’ were pulled together during a brief hiatus from touring, this LP marks a first effort where Baldi was given the space required to allow the songs to grow and develop. The year given to allow these songs to grow and bloom means the majority of this record is the most realised of the four full length Cloud Nothings’ efforts. Producer John Goodmanson (Sleater Kinney, Death Cab for Cutie) adds depth, texture and layers of melody while Baldi’s lyrics betray the looser time frames allowed also, more contemplative and considered than ever before, while retaining the sense of frayed introspection that is always close to the surface. The bracing, cathartic directness of ‘Internal World’, displays the extent to which this group has developed, swellings to a raucous finale, sure, yet it’s economical in a way they haven’t been before.
In interviews over recent weeks, Baldi has suggested that this record is to be his version of ‘new age music’ which is a slightly worrying suggestion, but aligned with the caveat that it’s meant to be inspiring. When Life Without Sound takes flight, it is inspiring, invigorating and more. The duff notes on an otherwise remarkably consistent record come in the guise of ‘Darkened Rings’ which comes across as an undesired fusion of Parquet Courts and Protomartyr while harnessing the momentum of neither, while plodding closer ‘Realize My Fate’ is unnecessarily dense and sludgy, and the primary misstep of this otherwise fine album.
Without question more contemplative and more reserved in a relative sense, yet retaining the sense of catharsis that’s been inherent in Cloud Nothings’ output since Attack On Memory, Life Without Sound is a rich, rewarding listen and represents a further step of clear progress for this still incredibly young group.