For all that Cleveland’s Cloud Nothings have achieved in their time as a band across eight years and what is now five studio albums, it’s easy to forget that the band’s figurehead, singer/guitarist Dylan Baldi, is not even 30 years old yet. Originally created as an outlet for his bedroom guitar musings in college, Baldi has spent his time with the moniker shifting through different stylistic approaches. He’s still searching, never quite giving everything away. This brings us to Life Without Sound, the band’s first standalone release in two-and-a-half years. It’s an album that showcases both a brighter, slightly more accessible tone conveyed in the songwriting paradigm; and yet it still holds true to the fuzzed-out, garage-friendly origins of the band before any cooler-than-thou type trips over themselves in order to hurl the first sell-out accusation.
It’s the sound of the band recalibrating and redesigning, but not going as far as to reinvent the wheel. This is, after all, a band that’s acutely aware of its strengths. Naturally, drummer Jayson Gerycz immediately comes to mind in this respect. He serves as somewhat of a MacGyver of the drum kit – just how do you make a Bonham-sized noise with only a ride cymbal, hi-hat, kick, snare and floor tom? Time after time, he finds a way: Whether he’s throwing an urgent ‘Twist and Shout’ style beat behind ‘Internal World’ or going certifiably H.A.M. on ‘Realize My Fate’, Gerycz asserts and maintains his position as one of indie rock’s best contemporary stick-wielders.
Life Without Sound is also the debut for guitarist/keyboardist Chris Brown, who doesn’t mess about in making his presence felt. That’s him in the opening moments of the record, ‘Up to the Surface’, with some tactfully built-up piano work. Although this isn’t the first Cloud Nothings record to begin as such – dissonant, distant notes ring out at the start of Attack on Memory‘s ‘No Future/No Past’ – but that was used as a bait-and-switch of sorts, luring listeners into a false sense of security before unleashing perhaps the band’s single most intense moment committed to record. This, however, is a part of the song’s greater arrangement – and it’s all the better for it. Brown also skilfully goes between emphatic piano notes and carefully mapped-out guitar lines on the radio-friendly ‘Sight Unseen’, while also adding extra guitar muscle to the Stones-meets-Nirvana hybrid ‘Enter Entirely’.
As for Baldi, he’s as consistent a performer here as he’s ever been. He dishes out some of the band’s most memorable hooks to date on lead single ‘Modern Act’ and the unfathomably-catchy ‘Things Are Right with You’, while also roaring into the ether on songs like the fiery, boisterous ‘Darkened Rings’. Lyrically, he’s in a reflective, uncertain state; knowing that a change is meant to come but remaining entirely unsure of what will happen when and if it does. He’s typically cryptic in parts – “I saw life in the shadows on foreign lines/I knew peace in the terror of the mind” – but he’s also more up-front and open-book than ever before when it counts: “I want a life/That’s all I need lately/I am alive, but all alone.” He’s still learning, adapting, evolving, raging against and working towards. Aren’t we all.
There’s no clear resolve or definitive answers to be found here. As Baldi opines, however, there’s “no use in life without a sound.” As long as we’re here, we might as well make some joyful noise.
‘Life Without Sound’ is out now.