Cloud Nothings - Here And Nowhere Else

Listen to the god damn drums. There’s a lot to like about Here And Nowhere Else, the new Cloud Nothings album: The snot-punk hooks, the scraped-out guitar textures, the overwhelming refusal to acknowledge any musical influences from anytime after, say, 1997. But those drums are the best thing about Here And Nowhere Else. Cloud Nothings drummer Jason Gerycz hits his drums like they just reminded him of everything that’s happened to every Cleveland professional sports team in the last 50 years, and he does it with serious speed and timing, at an absolutely relentless pace. The songs are good on their own, but Gerycz’s playing effectively straps a rocket to them. And as strong as the songs might be, I can’t think of a great rock album since Songs For The Deaf that would suffer this much if you took away the drummer and replaced him with some technically proficient schlub from the back of a Guitar Center. Gerycz’s playing has personality. He never sounds like he’s just waiting around for the chance to go apeshit while playing fills, but when he gets that chance, you need to get the fuck out of his way. This is exciting drumming, drumming with a sense of joy to it. And given that frontman Dylan Baldi never shows anything approaching joy, it’s a good thing he has Gerycz around to force his songs to sprint. Gerycz is the one element that takes what could be a self-pitying wallow and transforms it into a kickass rock album. And a kickass rock album is exactly what it is.

Baldi is not exactly new to kicking ass. Two years ago, he left behind the life of a psychedelic lo-fi garage-pop bedroom-recording guy to mine a deep vein of intense, frustrated, freewheeling sludge-rock, the type that used to pack terrible-smelling clubs back when Baldi was still learning how to walk. He and his band bunkered up with Steve Albini and knocked out the great Attack On Memory, an album full of the sort of cathartic whiplash scuzz that’s largely disappeared from the American underground since the internet came along and decreed that everything had to be so goddam pleasant all the time. Baldi is very much in Attack On Memory mode on Here And Nowhere Else, though he’s made some adjustments. The band has shed one guitarist, reverting to power-trio form. And along with that, they’ve lost some firepower, and they don’t play with quite the same deliberate, elemental force as they once did. Instead, they play faster and knock out catchier, more obnoxious singsong hooks. (Baldi, it’s suddenly evident, has owned at least a couple of Jawbreaker records in his life, and there could be a Blink-182 greatest-hits hidden in a shoebox somewhere.) The songs are, for the most part, shorter, more compact blurts of angst, and the album burns through its riffs in just over a half-hour. They’ve got a new producer, too: John Congleton, perhaps the greatest ornamenter on all of indie rock. Congleton has worked with his share of ass-kickers before, but he’s probably best-known for producing sweeping, mature, gently orchestral work for bands like the Walkmen and Okkervil River. And so it’s a testament to Cloud Nothings’ ferocity that Here And Nowhere Else makes a John Congleton production job sound like a Steve Albini production job.

In this Pitchfork feature, there’s an anecdote about the band wasting studio time by prank-calling a vocal coach who claims to give “the world’s best singing lessons.” Part of me wishes Baldi would quit pranking the guy and call him up in earnest to sign up for some instruction. Baldi’s voice is easily the band’s weakest point — a hoarse, deadpan husk that only really expresses anything when he brings it up to scream. (Even then, the thing it expresses is mostly just “I am currently screaming.”) But Baldi’s guitar sings like a bird — a terrifying bird of prey, maybe, but a bird nonetheless. Baldi’s guitar does most of the melodic heavy lifting on Here And Nowhere Else knocking out headlong riffs but then rushing into chaotic sun-flare solos and hurling itself against the furious current of that beyond-tight rhythm section. Baldi knows how to put together a song, and so every track on the album gradually ratchets up the intensity, building from straightforward riffage into raging, deeply satisfying climaxes. It’s a bit weird how he ends the album by following “Pattern Walks” — a song that spends seven minutes building to absolute bedlam — with first single “I’m Not A Part Of Me,” possibly the friendliest and most melodically sunny song Baldi has ever written. But even “I’m Not A Part Of Me” ends with a breakdown that builds into a tense whirlwind before breaking into a triumphant final chorus. It goes somewhere, and it earns that final loopy grin.

Mostly, I’m just excited that an album like this can exist, and be a big deal, at this late date. When old bastards like me were first learning about it, indie rock was understood to be, in some sense, an outgrowth of punk rock, and one that wasn’t too far removed from the genuine article. Back then, there was a sort of general trajectory: You’d move on to Unsane or the Supersuckers once you got bored of Pennywise or whatever, and then maybe you’d dig deeper and get into Blonde Redhead or Songs: Ohia or the Halo Benders. And maybe you’d keep listening to Pennywise even while you did that. I’m not saying that’s the right way to go about things, but I remember being genuinely shocked when I became a professional music critic and learned that a ton of my indie-rock-centric colleagues had never had a Bouncing Souls phase. Indie rock is a different animal now, and that’s generally a good thing; the underground wouldn’t have known to do with something like the War On Drugs Lost In The Dream in the ’90s — and that album is great, so that would’ve been a loss. But here we have a lovingly assembled, well-thought-out indie rock album that doesn’t sound exactly like ’90s basement-punk fare but does prize speed and muscle and disruption, and it makes all that sound vital, as opposed to simply calling back to an era when rock music needed to do stuff like that to sound vital. Because slash-and-burn guitar music like this can still sound great, and it’s nice to get a reminder of that potential every once in a while.

Here And Nowhere Else is out now on Carpark/Mom + Pop. Stream it here.

Other notable releases this week:

• Mac DeMarco’s woozy, relatively mature Salad Days.
• S. Carey’s ornate, orchestral folk-rocker Range Of Light.
• Pure X’s blurry, reverb-drenched Angel.
• Explosions In The Sky/Eluvium side project Inventions’ self-titled epic-ambient debut.
• White Hinterland’s R&B-fueled experiment Baby.
• Architecture In Helsinki’s bouncy, shamelessly poppy NOW + 4EVA.
• Saintseneca’s adventurous DIY folker Dark Arc.
• The Body’s sputtering, noisy, barely-metal Haxan Cloak collab I Shall Die Here.
• All-star trio Split Singles’ meat-and-potatoes debut Fragmented World.
• Smoke DZA’s overstuffed boom-bap odyssey Dream.ZONE.Achieve.
• RAC’s collab-heavy debut Strangers.
• Pyrrhon’s noise-damaged death metal attack The Mother Of Virtues.
• BOYFRNDZ’ frantically weird Breeder.
• Micachu & The Shapes leader Mica Levi’s score for the movie Under The Skin.
• The wide-release reissue of Hand Sand Hands’ hazy, expressive Lord Of Talk.
• Small Black’s Real People EP.

Comments (58)
  1. He’s never really discussed it but I heard michael_ hates Dylan Baldi.

  2. I’m surprised this isn’t getting more coverage, but Timber Timbre released their new album “Hot Dreams” today, and it’s seriously excellent. Great video for the opening track, too.

    • Yeah, Taylor Kirk has been the most underrated artist on Arts & Crafts (I don’t remember him ever been associated with Broken Social Scene, so that might have been one of the reasons) for the past five or so years quietly (in respect to the U.S. because Kirk and crew’s last album was nominated for the Polaris Prize) releasing brooding folk, damaged doo-wop, and full band/orchestra fever dreams not without glimmers of hope and smirks cloaked beneath the darkness.

      Probably the best description for TT’s discography is widescreen or cinematic because using just your imagination, certain songs could take you through the haunted (and sometimes strangely funny) surreal psyche that a David Lynch film might take you, or it could possibly soundtrack scenes from a Sergio Leone film (Simon Trottier’s composition work on the latest album brings to mind my favorite composer, Ennio Morricone but there are still traces of Angelo Badalamenti’s influence which I thought was more prevalent on Creep On Creepin’ On). Hot Dreams is honestly and most definitely an early contender for album of the year for me.

    • Timber Timbre have been possibly the most criminally ignored band internationally for YEARS (and at least 3 albums) now. Kirk gets at least some of his due at home in Canada, but even there still feels like an underdog.
      There’s just nothing else that sounds like that band — Hot Dreams is easy AOTW for me, can’t believe it doesn’t even get a mention. I’d be surprised to see it leave my top 5 this year.

  3. I prefer Salad Days this week, and even that S.Carey release.

    And that Pure X album… I wasn’t expecting a new album so soon, after the great Crawling Up the Stairs. I wanna listen it now!

  4. Honestly, I think his voice is one of the strongest and most recognizable traits to Cloud Nothings. It’s teen angst without muscle. It’s the growling underdog.

  5. Even though it got dismissed by Ian Cohen this morning and got left out completely here, the new Manchester Orchestra record is my favorite of the week.

  6. Praise [REDACTED]

  7. other great recent rock records that would be diminished without their drummer?

    Bows + Arrows, Veckatimist, and Alligator in my mind

    • There’s a lot of stuff going right on “St VIncent” but the drumming is ON-POINT, gives the record so much body. That;’s courtesy of Dap-Kings’Homer Steinwess, but John Congleton produced both records so I think we can say the man knows how to mix some motherfucking drums

    • Can’t speak on Bows + Arrows (haven’t really divulged into their catalog yet) but I think Veckatimest and Alligator have a much more delicate drum style, whereas Cloud Nothings have a balls-to-the wall approach.

      The only drummers I can think of on the top of my head that have that sort of fun-loving, all-hands-on-deck no-holds-barred style today are Gerycz, Dave Grohl, the guy from Mars Volta whose name I’m forgetting, and Matt Thomas (the Joy Formidable), which is too bad because that’s by far my favorite type of drumming to listen to/play

  8. I was wondering if Salad Days would have been a possible pick for this week. I know Demarco is pretty hyped up but the dudes a genius. His carefree prankster persona matched with the maturity and introspective of his album deserves recognition. Plus I can’t get “Passing Out Pieces” out of my head.

    But this album is rush. I honestly love the vocals because I’ve always felt what you can’t make up for in natural ability you can make up for with energy. I didn’t notice the drums right away but after reading this write up I completely agree that its such an obvious strong element to the bands overall delivery. Baldi seems more focused on creating hooky, energy filled songs on this one than Attack On Memory. Not sure which one I like more at this point, but I’m super impressed with the production its no easy feat to follow up someone like Albini.

    And last thing, special shoutout to Timbre Timbre’s new album. Its the perfect ending to a day full of Demarco and Cloud Nothings

  9. This album is 1% better than their last album.

  10. Salad Days For Me

  11. I was already digging the record, but after reading this I went back and listened harder to the drums. Now I can’t stop air drumming, Literally, I can’t stop. Somebody please help me. My flailing arms are really having a bad impact on my relationships and work life. :(

  12. I want to like the Cloud Nothings album more. I absolutely love Attack On Memory, but this one isn’t doing it for me. May need a few more listens to catch on I guess.

    • i feel the same way man. i might have hyped myself up too much for it i guess.

    • For me, it’s because the production is awful. Steve Albini is sorely missed.

      • Is it just me or does Pattern Walks sound especially horrible? If I try hard and ignore the blown out speaker sound, this song could be almost as good as Wasted Days. Unfortunately, parts of it are just painful to listen to and I think it’s because of the production work. So, I am looking forward to hearing it live next month, but the album is kind of disappointing.

  13. THANK YOU…. for making that point about Baldi’s voice. Definitely the weakest part of this band.

    • I really find his voice to be grating. I am surprised more people seem to like it. Even the intonation is not pleasurable to me. But this record is great. Most of the songs really just grab you and hold you.

  14. You guys, the PUP album is streaming and everyone should listen to it:

    • I really like that album, too. It reminds me of the best parts of Joyce Manor, Gaslight Anthem and METZ all somehow mashed up into one.

  15. I would have liked this album a lot more had it come out before Attack on Memory. But in light of that album, it just feels less urgent, less dynamic, less exciting. Just… less.

  16. I’m glad they’re doing this music but I having gone to their shows it just seems like fashion. The rhythm guitarist is what’s up though. Best member of the band

  17. This is great but The Body’s I Shall Die Here is my album of the week.

  18. Scarcely a mention for the fine new White Hinterland release so somebody’s gotta say it – No-one pushes Baby into a corner!

  19. Cloud Nothings are the ultimate “grower” band. The first time I heard AoM, it was such a jarring change of direction that I didn’t even get it at first. It took a few listens to reconcile that this was the same Dylan Baldi I listened to on his earlier works. Once the initial shock settled, though, after a couple listens, I was all in on the new sound. And that album got better with every listen.

    The first time I listened to “Here and Nowhere Else”, I was a little underwhelmed. The mix was quite different from the approach Steve Albini took, and I found myself kind of yearning for more of the AoM direction. I was almost disappointed. But because I love Cloud Nothings so much, I kept listening. Over and over again. And with every listen, my expectations and disappointed melted away. With every listen I picked up on more elements hidden in the production. And, as with anything Baldi writes, with every listen the hooks rose further and further to the top for me. Now, I absolutely LOVE this album. Just yesterday I went back and listened to Attack on Memory for the first time since I listened to Here and Nowhere Else. And I found myself wishing it was more like Here and Nowhere Else. It was crazy.

    I don’t know which album I’ll prefer in the long run, but right now, I actually think I like Here and Nowhere Else more, which I never would have thought possible.

  20. The little jabs at Dylan Baldi are unnecessary but Jason is a kick ass drummer! Lovin this album!

  21. Here and Nowhere Else and Salad Days are 1a and 1b for me this week, in that order. I just love the intensity of Cloud Nothings’ latest. But could those two albums be any more different? And they both come from similarly-aged people.

  22. Gonna have to check more of this band out. But I really appreciate the reviewers emphasis on VOCALS. I find too many critiques or just historical review of rock and alternative music to not value vocals enough. Like it’s a secondary instrument, when in fact, it’s the most important one. It’s a balance for me, if the vocals aren’t great, then the songwriting and playing needs to be. If the songwriting and playing is exceptional, then the vocals can slack a little bit and carry the music.

    • It’s punk music… can you imagine being young and in a punk band, and someone telling you to go get vocal lessons? Enough about his voice already. It’s great because it isn’t coached — it’s authentic.

  23. The thing I’ve really been listening to a lot is Mica Levi’s score for “Under the Skin”, it’s so creepy and interesting. Even if soundtrack’s aren’t really your thing, you should check it out.

  24. This album is AWESOME. I still like AOM a little bit more, but I can’t stop listening to this one lately.

  25. I’d give it to S. Carey’s release – “Alpenglow” is one gorgeous track.

  26. I love this album, its a great album. But I think he looks like McLovin.

  27. should have been lost in the dream

  28. Agreed on Cloud Nothings. Jams hard. OWWWWOOOOOOOOO!

  29. I didn’t like this album at first, but with each listen it is definitely growing on me. Attack on Memory is definitely a daunting album to follow up on. I can’t wait to see them in Phoenix in July.

  30. I’m a complete sucker for the simplest of lyrical tricks. The repeat of the same lyric over and over as band slowly builds into a cacophany. I fall for it every time. And this band might have the single greatest example of that trick….

    I thought I would be more than this
    I thought I would be more than this
    I thought I would be more than this
    I thought I would be more than this

    I thought I would be more than this
    I thought I would be more than this
    I thought I would be more than this
    I thought I would be more than this

    I thought I would be more than this
    I thought I would be more than this
    I thought I would be more than this
    I thought I would be more than this

    I absolutely lose my shit by the last one. Being middle aged and listening to him pound that thought into my head over and over drives me insane.

    In a good way.

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