How early is too early to undergo a career makeover? Dylan Baldi has likely contemplated this question, though probably not for very long. Although he’s only 20 years old, the brainstem of Cloud Nothings is already dealing with the growing pains that come with touring hard and receiving lots of press. In a recent interview with the Village Voice, he said, “I’m pretty sure, ‘He dropped out of college to form a lo-fi, one-man bedroom project’ will be written on my tombstone. Lo-fi! That doesn’t describe anything about the music at all.”
It’s one of those instances where a guy is joking but not really joking. Proof of this perspective comes in the form of Attack on Memory, the newly released sequel to Cloud Nothings’ 2011 self-titled debut. The record is pointedly different from the last one and is something that Baldi recently described as “an attack on the memory of what people thought the band was.” Seeing as the singer-guitarist founded the project in 2009 and began gaining steam only a couple of years ago, this is an awfully quick turnaround. But Baldi, a Clevelander with a skill for cranking out lean, indie-pop-by-way-of-pop-punk earworms, says he grew bored of playing Cloud Nothings night in, night out, across the country.
“A lot of our songs on the album that was self-titled all sort of sounded the same and had a really similar structure,” Baldi says. “[With] the way everything worked, it was very hard to tell one song apart from the other. I wanted to give this album more of an identity – a little more personality of every aspect of the band.”
With Attack, the recently solidified four-piece adds some fat to the mix. That’s not to say the changes are useless, it’s just that they allow the music more room for sizzle. The catchiness still exists, but ferocity and experimentation take center stage. “Wasted Days” exemplifies this revised direction: It’s nine minutes long, its instruments grind with a post-punky industriousness, and it eventually erupts into tortured, distortion-drenched havoc. Baldi says that he wouldn’t have written such a song if he had been writing alone. A couple of other factors shaped Attack: Baldi’s recent obsession with the fantastic, often neglected punk band Wipers, and the record’s producer being perpetual curmudgeon and abrasive rock kingpin Steve Albini. Although the album bears the sandy texture of an archetypal Albini recording, Baldi doesn’t attribute any creative decisions to him. “He didn’t really influence the actual musical content of the record,” he says. “It was all what we were doing that makes it sound the way it does.”
As a conversationalist, Baldi moves like the songwriter of that first record by getting to the point and getting out. He comes across as someone who greatly values efficient action and gut instinct: He had the inkling to change his original sound so he did; he wanted to release a second record within a year of the first so he did; he just knows what separates a good hook from the bad. It’s possible that Yoda’s wrinkled visage and “do or do not” motto are inked somewhere on his body.
All this talk of change brings up an important potential downside: Isn’t it possible to disappoint the fans he had by altering things so fast? Baldi dismisses the notion with an immediacy and confidence that fits his style. “I mean, it could,” Baldi says, “but based on how many people were coming to our shows when we toured the last record, I don’t think we had a whole ton of fans to begin with, so hopefully, this brings out more.”
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.