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Cloud Nothings Hit Emo’s Sweet (And Sour) Spot on ‘Here And Nowhere Else’

SPIN Rating: 8 of 10
Release Date: April 01, 2014
Label: Carpark

The emo revival! It’s the new alt-R&B! And it’s littered with bands — A Great Big Pile of Leaves, Into It. Over It. — that have taken back a genre that, in its heyday, had connotations so polarizing its arbiters were quick to deny their involvement. (If it wasn’t in a newsprint zine from 1999, there would be a link here to an interview where a Clarity-era Jimmy Eat World eschewed the term “emo” and declared themselves, “Metal! True metal!”). And yet despite the grip of groups doing this now, the one that hits closest to the meaty, gut-wrenching midpoint between Rites of Spring and Bleed American is Cloud Nothings. If The Get Up Kids’ scraggly Four Minute Mile ever soothed your soured soul, then the bleary riffs of Here and Nowhere Else will be a familiar palliative.

Started by 22-year-old frontman Dylan Baldi in his Ohio bedroom, Cloud Nothings began with 7″s released by Group Tightener (the label that first put out Bethany Cosentino’s work before her Best Coast project became a polished band) and a CD-R, Turning On, that beamed with Baldi’s jangly, lo-fi pop. Later, 2012’s Attack On Memory found the band fully formed and working with alt-god producer Steve Albini. Albini smothered their sound, rendering it dank, scuzzed-up almost-pop. It was a departure but it worked, and Attack On Memory found its way onto a number of year-end lists.

On Here and Nowhere Else, which was produced by John Congleton (St. Vincent, Erykah Badu, R. Kelly (!?)), Baldi and co. take the best bits from Albini’s tutelage, apply them to lo-fi pop-punk structures and infuse all of it with tightly wound angst. If the first indicator of this fusion was the immediately hooky lead single “I’m Not Part of Me,” then album opener “Now Hear In” is the case in point. An incisive mission statement right down to its title, the song marries fevered riffs with a bass-heavy chorus. It’s upbeat punk, but Baldi’s lyrics about his vexing past provide a dour counterpoint that sets the tone for the entire album.

“Quieter Today” is a manic confessional, relating problems of the head and the heart, as well as frustration that no one wants to listen. “Giving Into Seeing” is scorched earth pop-punk, with vocals so pained they sound like Baldi would rather push all of his organs out of his body than bear the feeling he’s trying to express. “No Thoughts,” while poppier, has the same hopelessness, while “Pattern Walks” contains brief moments of optimism, with Baldi’s vocals transforming from raspy to clean by song’s end, resounding above the din. The album closes with “I’m Not Part of Me,” a song of solitary self-discovery — “I’m learning how to be here and nowhere else / How to focus on what I can do myself / I’m not telling you all I’m going through / I feel fine.” Baldi’s resolve provides a nice bookend to an album generally suffused in despair, not to mention a conveniently emo conclusion: You screech through the confusion, find a quiet place to figure it out, and hope to come out clean.