Music

Cloud Nothings: Cloud Nothings

Photo: Gemma Harris

Cloud Nothings follow up a promising debut EP with a disappointing full length of run-of-the-mill pop punk 20 years too late.


Cloud Nothings

Cloud Nothings

Label: Carpark
US Release date: 2011-01-25
UK Release date: 2011-01-24
Label website
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

Well, the inevitable happened. Cloud Nothings garnered a bunch of internet buzz last year due to the really wonderful lo-fi pop EP, Turning On -- oh, and also due to the fact that “band” was really just 19-year-old Clevelandite Dylan Baldi recording himself in his parents’ basement. The buzz led him to put a touring band together, collect the original EP and some other singles on a somewhat lopsided extended extended player, also called Turning On, and go into a real life studio to record a proper debut for Carpark Records. Sure, there’s a lot of pressure. What made Baldi intriguing was that his song writing skill seemed to go beyond his age. However, this debut finds him making just the kind of album you would think a teenage kid would make. It’s good, but nothing special.

I wanted to like this album, too. It was one of my most anticipated records for this year. Baldi never committed himself to the dogma of lo-fi-dom; he was excited to make a “cleaner” sounding album. He had many options and made the interesting decision to record in Baltimore with the producer, Chester Gwazda, who has worked with Dan Deacon and Future Islands. But Cloud Nothings’ brand of sugary yet punky power pop doesn’t have the adventurousness you might expect from this Wham City connection. The resulting album is surely clean; the guitars even sparkle at times, and Baldi’s voice makes its nasally sweetness heard clearly in the mix. What this adds up to is nothing but a decent pop-punk album (inspiration circa 1991). The cutesy head bopping of “Nothing’s Wrong” just makes Baldi sound young and lightweight, a diet version of Cloud Nothings. I’d rather listen to an old Screeching Weasel album.

Last year, Ariel Pink made a successful jump from potential lo-fi genius to fully formed album-length greatness with Before Today. It wasn’t so much a production change as more consistent song writing that made this work. With Cloud Nothings, the songwriting isn’t really the issue. Each song on the album is arguably good, even if most of them start to blend together on repeated listens. The most overwhelmingly notable change is the speed of the songs. Turning On had a lazy haziness that was interesting and turned down the insistence of the power pop form, as if payoff could wait. Cloud Nothings, on the other hand, sounds rushed. You can imagine a teenager running through every song he knows as quickly as possible. And the album, with 11 tracks, only clocks in at about 28 minutes and change..

The real problem is that this album seems to have polished away all the bumps that really provided the best part of Baldi’s sound. Power pop is a hard genre since it’s so formulaic. To stand out, you’ve got to be really damn good. Baldi has the chops, but they don’t show up on this record. One suspicion I have is that he has clung to the one-man band approach. He may have worked these songs out with other musicians on tour, but in the studio, it was still just him. The rushed feel to this quick, short set of songs speaks to me of a failure of collaboration. With hubris from his success, Baldi was so sure of what needed to be done -- so he just went ahead and did it by himself. But this ends up sinking by sounding workmanlike.

It’s been too short a time since Cloud Nothings broke out to ask for any maturity -- and really that’s not what you particularly want in a pop group. It seems, however, that Baldi is trying for that. The lyrics bespeak a self-conscious teenager trying to be adult: the worst line for my money is “I am understanding/but I can’t believe what you’ve been through” on the aptly named “Been Through”. Baldi is playing that sensitive guy card without a bit of irony. In that vein, the intricate melodic guitar parts (that merely add up to simple punk chord changes) call back to mind the weaving emo axe masters from the close of the millennium.

Despite all of these hallmarks of “feeling”, this album ends up sounding empty. There’s no thickness, no heft to the sound. Cleaned up, Baldi sounds thin and nasally. The crystalline guitars never push into the red (except on the buried afterthought of a guitar solo on "You’re Not That Good At Anything”, which is also one of the few songs, along with “Not Important”, where Baldi seems to have any teenage angst). The highlight of the album comes only with the last song, “All the Time”, where it sounds like Baldi tries to catch his breath at last. The song could have been on the earlier EP, but it actually uses the studio space to its benefit by allowing for some texture: one part consists of just guitar and voice (too bad it’s still too thin). I don’t want to say that the lo-fi of Cloud Nothings’ good recordings must have hidden the weak spots of the band, but it’s hard not to feel that somehow this precocious songwriter has regressed. Or else, he’s just gotten better at manufacturing pop songs (sans feeling) and delivering them in no time at all.

6

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image