From ‘Attack on Memory’ to ‘Here and Nowhere Else’, Cloud Nothings have given the world some of the most ambitious post-punk of recent years. They’ve consistently pedalled their hardcore-style instrumentation, emotional (with emphasis on the ‘emo’) lyrical/vocal combinations and easy access noise throughout their records, and have cemented their reason to belong with great songs like ‘Stay Useless’, ‘Wasted Days’ and ‘I’m Not Part of Me’.
It’s 2017, we’re coming off the heels of 2015’s likeable-enough collaboration project with Wavves and an arrival of a new guitarist in Chris Brown (not THAT Chris Brown, that’d be strange) and the band have given us a glimpse into their own personal ‘Life Without Sound’, an interesting title indeed.
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As mentioned, Cloud Nothings’ ambition on previous albums was undeniable, but on ‘Life Without Sound’, it appears to be missing, in almost every fathomable area, especially with the ‘soft’ production style. There were probably a few sets of confused-yet-curious ears when listening to the piano introduction of opening track ‘Up to the Surface’ for the first time – very un-Cloud Nothings – but hardly off-putting. However, it soon becomes apparent that this album holds nowhere near as much punch, drive, grit or edge as their previous releases. Once making it past uninspired middle-of-the-road rockers like ‘Internal World’ and ‘Strange Year’, you’ll realise the album lacks the enthusiasm that ‘Here and Nowhere Else’ had, and comparing it to ‘Attack on Memory’ would just seem mean-spirited.
What happened to the great drumming? It’d be too great an insult to say Jayson Gerycz’s performances on the album are poor, but if you’re a Cloud Nothings fan, you’ll definitely be missing the energetic, spectacular rhythm sections that were previously present, excluding the fun-enough surf rock-inspired sections of ‘Darkened Rings’ and to an extent, ‘Enter Entirely’. Dylan Baldi’s vocals are just as disappointing, a little bit too blasé, too ‘cool as a cucumber’, with none of the impactful shouts he’s known for until the likeable closer ‘Realize My Fate’.
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The jangle pop-esque ‘Modern Act’ is decent enough, with the song at least flirting with the high points of Baldi’s emotional songwriting capabilities, capabilities that ‘Life Without Sound’ does not reach in general. The aforementioned opener manages to kick things off in a somewhat optimistic way, and ‘Things Are Right With You’ is a tad too normal/predictable but the band at least don’t sound as though they’re holding back on it. These are the songs that might allow the listener to forgive the overall ‘Cloud Nothings Diet’ vibe of the album.
There is nothing inherently wrong with the general direction of ‘Life Without Sound’, it just serves as the most basic representation of Cloud Nothings possible. A Cloud Nothings song doesn’t have to have the self-pity of ‘Stay Useless’ to be totally exceptional, but nothing here comes close to that brilliance, that self-deprecating beauty, and it doesn’t feel like it gives it that good a go either. ‘Life Without Sound’ is a sound without life.