Cloud Nothings: Attack on Memory

Attack on Memory is a great album, regardless of genre, and one that serves as a blueprint as to where Cloud Nothings' signature sound is headed to next.

Cloud Nothings

Attack on Memory

Label: Carpark
US Release Date: 2012-01-24
UK Release Date: Import

The second full-length from Cleveland’s Cloud Nothings (not counting a collection of singles and various ephemera released in 2010 called Turning On) might not exactly be a front-and-centre release for the dregs of January, but it is hotly anticipated in some quarters. Canadian music radio personality Alan Cross placed Attack on Memory, said aforementioned sophomore album, on his most-looked-forward-to albums of early 2012 in a recent post on his blog. There’s likely a couple of big reasons for the slavish drooling for Attack on Memory from those indie music connoisseurs who chart new releases eagerly.

For one thing, the record is a lovingly nostalgic look back at ‘90s-style alternative rock filtered through the lens of ‘70s arena anthems. In fact, Cloud Nothings’ one-man frontman Dylan Baldi has gone on record as saying he pretty much listened to only stuff that came from before he was born – he's 20 years old – while constructing his latest missive. Oh, and by the way, Attack on Memory was recorded and engineered by none other than that late ‘80s/early ‘90s studio wizard known as Steve Albini. (If that doesn’t whet your appetite for some backwards-looking musical geeky coolness to warm your winter ears, I don’t know what will.)

However, there should be another reason why one should approach the arrival of Attack on Memory with widely open arms: it’s a great album, regardless of genre. One that serves as a blueprint as to where Cloud Nothings signature sound is headed to next.

You see, Cloud Nothings was originally just your average, ordinary, run of the mill, lo-fi bedroom rock band. Things got cleaned up a little bit more for the first proper Cloud Nothings release – last year’s self-titled debut disc – and this album saw the “band” (the term is used loosely, seeing that it is essentially Baldi’s brainchild) moving away from its original aesthetic. However, with Attack on Memory, Baldi wanted an album that was more representative of the group’s live sound, which has been refined through touring.

Enter Albini. We all know that Steve Albini is a musician’s producer/engineer; he’ll give you what you want. If you want something punky and scuzzy, like Nirvana did with In Utero, he will set up about 30 microphones around the drum kit to give you a punchy wall of dissonant, heart-in-your-throat pounding. If you want something quite a bit more polished and varnished, as Bush did with Razorblade Suitcase, Albini will still give you an album that will still merit you comparisons to Nirvana while potentially getting you some radio airplay. However, in Cloud Nothings’ case, Albini has reached back to his days with the Pixies, and has helped Baldi and company create an album that sounds just a little bit like Surfer Rosa.

That’s not to say that Attack on Memory is a complete sound-a-like to a certain reformed Boston-area band of a certain age. The chimey guitars might rip a page out of the songbook of Joey Santiago, but there are times where Baldi’s nasal voice sounds, at times, like a dead ringer for the spaced-out stylings of Thom Yorke. Add in a dash of Slint-like post-rock and you’ve essentially got yourself a record. A somewhat derivative one, yes, but well-constructed and energetic at the same time.

That care in construction is evident on opening cut “No Future / No Past”, which starts out with a quaint and dainty piano line, but then the massive drums and guitars blow away any notions that you might be getting yourself into a Tori Amos album early on. Hearing the track is a little like watching a master potter at work. The song revolves around a repeated verse as more and more instruments are gradually introduced into the mix, before exploding into a molten frenzy of post rock angularity. What’s more, the following track, “Wasted Days”, delves even further into sonically adventurous territory, while keeping the hooks on the table.

The song is almost nine minutes long, and features an extended solo section that builds and builds to a malleable climax of cacophony. However, not a single second of that song feels overbearing or pretentious. In fact, it feels a little like Built to Spill’s “Goin’ Against Your Mind” in some regards in how the song is layered into a tightly controlled thrash where more instrumentation is gradually added in as the extended section progresses. The song is spiky and full of catchy angles, and this track in particular seems to be constructed in a way where it could go into all sorts of sprawling directions when it is played live.

The tendency to think about the live setting goes far beyond that song. Attack on Memory boasts an instrumental, “Separation”, that is utterly post-punk in execution. If Elvis Costello ever took speed and recorded a song without lyrics during his prime, “Separation” would be an indication as to how that might sound. However, the song also has a break that feels dug right out of the cadence of grunge rock with its atonal guitars and furious fury. It will stop the floor dead when the band plays this in front of people.

The album is full of plucked gems such as “Fall In” – which sounds a little like “fallin’” when Baldi sings it – a remotely cowpunkish number that is folded through the perspective of mid-period Modest Mouse. Hear the tune just a time or two and it is guaranteed to get stuck in your cranium like a bad case of sonic Ebola. The hard-edged “No Sentiment” is another highlight with its strung-out opening guitar line contrasted against some rough edged melodies that quickly enter and kick out the door.

In fact, of the eight songs presented on Attack on Memory, there’s not one misfire in the bunch. Granted, it could be argued that the record is a product of how a band wants to sound in front of people, as opposed to having a sort of logical flow from front to back, but, you know what? I don’t care. Attack on Memory is so fun, so reverential of its signature sound, and something that you can easily shake your head or a fist to, that you forgive any of its very slight shortfalls. In that regard, this long player (relatively speaking: it is only 33-and-a-half minutes long) seems to be more of a manifesto.

This is the sound of a band (relatively speaking: again, it is essentially Baldi and some hired players, though everyone reportedly contributed something to this album) more concerned with how their overall resonance attacks and forces any opponents into a corner with uppercut after uppercut. Hyper and frenzied, Attack on Memory has every right to be an anticipated early album of 2012. It’s great, catchy as hell, and bristling with retro rage and vitriol. What’s more, I’ll bet you any money that the songs contained within will sound even better when unleashed onto a concert stage. For that, Attack on Memory is an album that was well worth the wait.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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