In the ever-expanding indie universe, several ‘90s genre have seen a renaissance of late. You don’t have to go far before crashing headlong into another millennial group refashioning old R&B, alt-rock, grunge, emo, and techno tropes for their current projects. Power-pop punk Dylan Baldi joins the fray with his Steve Albini-produced sophomore effort, Attack on Memory.
The aide of the legendary Big Black frontman is one of the major keys to conveying the improvisational full-length’s melodic acumen and unfolding pathos. The efficacy of the post-punk genre remains fortified even in 2012. Opener “No Future/No Past” brings that assertion to light. It’s a slow crawl to pay dirt, but that opening interplay between piano and electric guitar portends an apocalyptic strain of nihilism. That storm cloud moves overhead and before long Baldi’s vocals grate into fine screamo cheese. The Cleveland artist still has some room for improvement in the vocals area, but it’s a vast improvement over what’s come before. He delivers the bombastic high notes with a fitful ease as they hover in the upper end of the mix, and the low grain of his voice is rumbling and downright spine-chilling.
Cloud Nothings’ crawling progression from the lo-fi power-pop ingénue heard on his early seven inches, split cassettes, and Turning On EP has been interesting to follow and analyze. Thankfully, last year’s underappreciated self-titled album eased the basement auteur into the professional milieu of a studio booth. His Cloud Nothings outfit thrives under the hot lights and ticking clocks of Albini’s Chicago space.
Baldi took his lumps and toured his ass off last year. The fruits of his labor manifest in a bumper crop via Attack on Memory’s second cut, the nearly nine-minute epic, “Wasted Days.” It seems as though there are no wasted days for Cloud Nothings. “Wasted Days” is one powerful trip through a demoralizing wasteland of clangorous guitars, tunneling bass, and quicksilver drumming. Whereas older Cloud Nothings songs were not very adventurous in the percussion department, this crashing din builds into a hot froth, releases its claws for a spell, and screams out its death during the extending running time. None of it should have been truncated.
The quick arrival of the sugary alt-punk tune “Fall In” lends towards a clumsy occurrence of poor sequencing. Following up such disparate tunes with a poppy wonder could have been deliberate, though. It’s one of Attack on Memory’s many peeks back into Cloud Nothings’ recent past and proof that they aren’t a foot-dragging cadre of Charlie Browns. The bouncy “Stay Useless” has a similar effect. It’s a taut earworm about the pains of growing up for the kids bopping around at the next Cloud Nothings gig. “Separation” splits the difference between unrelenting clash and jovial dance. The lurch of those dissonant chords finally spews forth after the midpoint. Cloud Nothings are experts at this type of chaos.
“No Sentiment” returns Baldi to the darker tones of the ‘90s. Grunge guitars and screamo vocals fight a war that won’t end. (That electric guitar has quite a death rattle, doesn’t it? Thank you, Albini.) The final two tracks, “Our Plan” and “Cut You,” are not as directly impactful as the rest of Attack on Memory. It’s almost a clinical coda to a pretty daring sophomore effort. Baldi punches the clock, wreaks havoc, and quickly leaves the premises.
Despite this, Cloud Nothings have produced a transfixing head rush of a release and one of the well-wrought examples of ‘90s revivalism. Baldi is working at the peak of his powers and he deserves more notice in 2012.