REVIEW: Cloud Nothings - "Attack on Memory"

Cloud Nothings
Attack on Memory
Release Date:  January 24, 2012
Record Label:  Carpark Records

In the past three years Cloud Nothings have released as many albums.  While the first two Turning On and Cloud Nothings twinkled with an adolescent sheen, Attack on Memory -- with it's brooding title in place -- is obviously an attempt (in one way or another) to grow up.  Accordingly, the Cleveland-based group travelled to Steve Albini's Electrical Audio studios in Chicago to work with the famed producer and Big Black frontman.  And while Albini's expertise isn't as the sort of guru producer made famous by Rick Rubin, his sonic footprints are clearly evident on Attack on Memory where Cloud Nothings, appear desperate to rip the pop out and settle on the "post-punk."

Opener (with the typical anti-sentimental title) "No Future No Past" does its best to cast off Cloud Nothings' other albums.  The tinkling piano throbs into a undulating bass riff reminiscent (not surprisingly) of Surfer Rosa.  But we're without the electric rage here, and the song spends most of its droning, apathetic 4 and a half minutes working up to the screamed (a la Frank Black) "No Future / No Past!"  Listening back to the opener off Turning On, "Can't Stay Awake," it's clear how much Cloud Nothings seem desperate to shed their older image.  "Can't Stay Awake" is indicative of most of the band's early work -- tinny, lo-fi, musicianship sacrificed for sound -- the infectious melodies as saccharine as they are frivolous and catchy.  Contrast this with track two off Attack on Memory which begins with a giant blaze before going on for almost NINE MINUTES (almost a third of the whole album), not to mention a pretty big bass solo.  Cloud Nothings' brainchild Dylan Baldi spawned the band out of the lo-fi craze that created groups like Wavves.  But, as Baldi explains it, Attack on Memory is an attempt to do something different.  Baldi's pop acumen is still on display with tracks like "Fall In" where Albini's production grounds the power-pop sentimentality to render the best track on the album.  It's in this fusion that the album really soars as well as on "Stay Useless," a ballad about not doing fuckall.    

In the hurry to define this lo-fi movement that Cloud Nothings and Wavves (among others) have begun, people have slapped the label "post-punk" onto the groups, for what reason I can't seem to fathom.  Most of the classic "punk" bands from the United States -- Fugazi, Minutemen, etc. -- are in fact, "post-punk."  Bands that we are now at least two if not three steps away from.   Lumping Cloud Nothings in there seems haphazard and ridiculous.  In fact, the most "post-punk" thing on this album is Albini's production, which is hardly noteworthy given that the man defined the sound of post-punk in the 90s.  Though I love Albini, I'm not sure if his presence here is entirely worth it.  Too often, Attack on Memory feels like a forced throwback -- the way you wear your brothers shirts to school appear cool.  At it's weakest, this album sounds like a recreation of the post-punk sound rather than growing from it.  While this record may be something new for Baldi, it runs the risk of being rather old for the rest of us.  Really, how many times have we been subjected to this sort of light-nihilistic apathy?  A lot.  Attack on Memory feels like a belabored rehash of most of it.  I'm not sure if Baldi & co. did themselves any favors by enlisting Albini, even though his production does add layers that Cloud Nothings hadn't even approached on their earlier records.  Certainly when a synchronistic middle ground appears like on "Fall In" or "Stay Useless" the record appears to be embarking on new ground musically, not just for the band.

The joyous and quirky aire of previous records becomes angst in Attack on Memory, and this, for me is probably the most damnable aspect of the album.  Baldi's pop sensibilities may be strong, but his angst is just that -- angst and overwrought.  Perhaps I'm getting old, but men in their early 20s groaning about a futureless present just don't do it for me.  Why not tackle something else, not just for you, but for us?


  1. Wow. The first sentence of this review makes no sense. Good job.

  2. Reads Cloud Nothings have released three albums in three years...that's what I took from it.

  3. I might have missed it, but I'm pretty sure you forgot to mention that the record rocks.