With a name right out of the Chillwave Name Generator and songs closer in spirit to radio static, Cloud Nothings hit the indie-zeitgeist’s sweet spot in 2010. In light of this cleaned-up, self-titled debut, it’s tempting to think that Dylan Baldi — for all intents and purposes, Cloud Nothings — knew exactly what he was doing: He Trojan-horsed his way into the blogosphere with the flavor of the week, only to reveal himself, with these 11 tracks, as an old-school purveyor of earnest, unstylish power-pop.
Which is to say that this album is a lot of things, a good deal of them positive: emotional, unpretentious, hooky, mostly about girls. This is not the sort of record that ends up on year-end lists; it is not ambitious, or innovative. It is not about atmosphere, or detail, or unconventional song structures. Rather, it’s about communicating the hooks to the listener in as direct and unobtrusive a way as possible, and making you feel just as pumped and earnest and confused (two of these tracks see Baldi explicitly stating that he does not understand anything) as this guy seems to be. Just enough noise has been excised to make it all work: any cleaner and you’d lose the off-the-cuff quality of tracks like “Should Have” (which could have been an early frontrunner for indie-ballad of the year, were it played at half the speed) and “Not Important” (in which Baldi sounds like he’s doing a particularly nasty impression of Blink 182’s Tom DeLonge).
Some of these hooks hit harder than others. Cloud Nothings is at its least enjoyable when Baldi’s bawling out some unidentified second party. On “You’re Not That Good At Anything,” Baldi repeats the title’s sentiment ad nauseum over nervous, headache-y guitars. It’s catchy, but not enjoyably so. A bum chorus can’t kill the buzz of an album full of them, though, and if you’re not liking what you’re hearing, all you have to do it wait a minute or two. Baldi, polite Midwesterner that he is, doesn’t seem to want to waste a dime in the studio. He rushes through sub-two minute stompers like “Heartbeat” and “Rock” like he’s trying to finish before lunch. It’s probably a good thing that Baldi dropped out of college to pursue Cloud Nothings full time, because a mouthful of Adderol couldn’t kill this kid’s restless energy.
And yet, for a 27-minute album of no-frills power pop, a few too many of these tracks feel like filler. That might just be an extension of Baldi’s attitudes toward releasing music: a full-length album doesn’t have to be a “defining statement,” any more so than a split seven-inch or four-song EP does. As with a lot of other musicians his age, its about getting the music out there as fast and as frequently as possible — which, in Baldi’s case is pretty damn frequently. One gets the feeling that he’s already putting the finishing touches on Cloud Nothings LP 2. In the meantime, we have this: a couple of stellar additions to Baldi’s rapidly metastasizing oeuvre, and a couple of songs whose play counts won’t inch past two or three.