In the often trite, homogeneous world of indie music, it can be difficult to set oneself apart from the crowd. Attempts at uniqueness come across as pretentious at best and misguided at worst; the Venn diagram of artists who step outside their musical boundaries and subsequently become pariahs, victims of the flesh-eating, finite archetypical hipster identity, is basically a circle. So finding the outliers amongst the ill-fated musical martyrs becomes a diligent task – one that bears only a small glimmer of hope. Imagine the collective sighs of the community, then, when 20 year-old Dylan Baldi steps back on the scene.
Born of catchy lo-fi pop, Baldi’s band, Cloud Nothings, debuted in 2010 to positive reviews and a fleeting spot in the limelight, but little else to speak for. Back then, it would have been a piece of cake to puzzle out Cloud Nothings’ musical future: a few songs on the summer playlist of some gratuitous, horn-rimmed, mayonnaise-skinned teenage beatnik serving as the only obituary to a week-long sensation. Today, that future looks much different. Today, that future belongs to, of all things, a grunge throwback post-hardcore band with accolades from Rolling Stone magazine and Steve Albini (of Pixies and Nirvana fame) on board as producer. Today, Dylan Baldi stands firmly atop the world of indie music. And being crushed underfoot has never sounded so awesome.
Cloud Nothings’ third album, Attack on Memory, opens with a delicate piano riff that quickly becomes sandwiched between creeping bass, distorted guitar, and haunting vocals – elements common throughout all eight tracks. For an album released in 2012, it sounds remarkably like a demo from early ‘90s Seattle. Even the music video for “No Future / No Past” is reminiscent of Soundgarden’s trippy “Black Hole Sun”. But make no mistake: Baldi isn’t just aping Cobain and Vedder. Attack on Memory is a microcosmic mash-up of the entire post-glam rock era, borrowing from the best of pop-punk, emo, noise, and indie, and infusing it all with vitriolic yet honeyed hooks that grab the listener by the scruff. This medley of influences reaches its apex on tracks like “Stay Useless”, which maintains its punk cred without sacrificing catchy, mainstream sensibility.
Eight tracks doesn’t allow for any filler, but make no mistake: Attack on Memory still has its weak spots. Baldi is not a lyrical genius by any means. Even when compared to the most deficient of his contemporaries, Baldi’s lyrics are still mediocre at best. There’s such a thing as compensation, though – and on the whole, Cloud Nothings makes up for what it might lack in lyricism with the pure intensity and uniqueness of its sound.
Attack on Memory would be a brilliant album with or without the context of indie music’s current state. It is even more brilliant because of it.