Cloud Nothings – Attack On Memory

Starting on an operatic note with the delicate and foreboding plinks of a piano, Attack On Memory is a teenage ra-ra-riot like we haven’t seen in a decade. It’s hard to conscientiously compare it to early-2000s pop-punk when Dylan Baldi, the driving creative force behind Cloud Nothings, has explicitly stated he was heavily influenced by 70s punk bands like The Wipers, but it’s unfathomable to think that as a 20-year-old, Baldi hasn’t spent years of his adolescent life in dank rooms listening to angsty music made by similarly-influenced hoodrat skate-punks and it not having rubbed off on him. It’s not a bad thing; in 1999 this might’ve been discarded in favour of Enema of the State but in 2012, it sounds like a revelation, particularly to those who weren’t around back then.
Of course, Cloud Nothings are not the only band making music for bummed out Millennials. A friend and fellow critic described Attack On Memory as the winter counterpart to Wavves’ 2010 release, King of the Beach – I’m aware it’s summer here; you have to understand that these Americans are quite backwards – which almost nails it. Baldi shows a keen ear for melody like Wavves’ Nathan Williams, showing off whoops and wails and trilling guitar riffs, and King of the Beach, like Attack On Memory, showed a significant progression for a previously scuzzy post-adolescent, but the former lacks Baldi’s musicianship. Anyone who knows anything, or is at least cursorily aware of the 70s, knows you don’t have to know how to play an instrument particularly well to write resonant music; it sure doesn’t hurt though, and Baldi’s arrangements have a relative intricacy, showcased in extended instrumental passages particularly on “Separation” and the nearly-nine-minute-long “Wasted Days”, which show an interest for craft that Williams’s fun-in-the-sun pop lacks.

It’s also considerably darker, mimicking some of punk rock’s more pessimistic tendencies. You’ve only gotta look as far as the nihilistic title of the first track, “No Future/No Past”, that references the punk fixation-turned-motto that there’s no tomorrow to see that Baldi’s not exactly one of the smiling undergrads on the college brochure. This feeling of frustration permeates the album, addressing various aspects of dissatisfaction during the years one has to grow up a lot in relatively little time. “I need time to stop moving / I need time to stay useless,” he sings on “Stay Useless” or “I know / My life’s not gonna change / And I’ll live / Through all these wasted days,” on “Wasted Days”, prescribing new lyrics to perpetual adolescent malady. It’s a mystery the way a bitter song when you’re bitter makes the world seem much more bearable, though I suspect it’s partially a symptom of misery loving company and partially the cathartic release.
In the New York Times last year, Nitsuh Abebe wrote that “It’s hard to overestimate quite how fondly a certain age group remembers Blink-182.” While Blink 182 isn’t precisely a sonic touchstone for Cloud Nothings, there’s a certain timelessness to that turn-of-the-century pop-punk sound that seems to be the perfect vessel for expressing adolescent rage while simultaneously making one feel better about it, which is how you can put on “Dammit” at any twentysomething party anywhere in the Western world and suddenly be the most magnetic person there. Some of us are just a little too old to have the same religious attachment to Attack On Memory but it’s comforting to know this music is still being made. Maybe in another ten years time we’ll read about how hard it is to overestimate how fondly a certain age group remembers Cloud Nothings.
by Jake Cleland

February 9th 2012
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