Early on, Cloud Nothings seemed like they were on the verge of falling in line with the recent pop-punk/emo resurgence, a la Modern Baseball or early Hotelier. Their 2011 self-titled full-length debut seemed to indicate this approach; drenched in lo-fi, frontman Dylan Baldi sang in full Tom DeLonge whine over quick-hitting, jangled hooks. The substance of Cloud Nothings, and the preceding compendium of earlier recordings, Turning On, felt like high school, dedicated to lamenting while bobbing your head.
Then Attack on Memory happened. Tracing the arc from Attack to the Cloud Nothings of today is much easier to paint. Starting with that album’s “Wasted Days,” Baldi and company have explored a greater musical range, deliberately pursuing rough textures and outright noise alongside pop. Here and Nowhere Else, the band’s 2014 follow-up and perhaps its best record to date, uncovered a special blend of ecstatic melodies and cacophony, as evidenced on the closing “Pattern Walks” and “I’m Not Part of Me.”
With the great strides made on Attack and Here, Cloud Nothings may have taken a more measured approach to Life Without Sound (Carpark Records). It’s clear the extra time between records allowed the band to experiment further with their sound. Opening track “Up to the Surface” takes on an eerie tone with its horror film-style piano before building into a tender rock song. On closer “Realize My Fate,” Baldi tests the limits of his voice. He sings as if he’s exorcising a demon, and it’s a ginormous step from Turning On. Meanwhile, Baldi avoids a chorus altogether on easy-rocker “Entire Entirely.” It completely works, but is an intriguing listen given how powerful the choruses have been on prior Cloud Nothings songs.
The only knock on Life Without Sound may be its lack of one truly catchy track. “Modern Act” is a contender for the album’s premier single, but feels half-baked compared to past songs like “Stay Useless” or “I’m Not Part of Me.” Sure, those songs would be hard to match, and in some respect it’s superficial to complain about a lack of hits, but can argue this is an area where Baldi typically excels and is exactly what has created the excitement around Cloud Nothings’ releases. Baldi was most likely pushing Cloud Nothings to be do something atypical, and Life Without Sound shows there is more to the band beyond hooks.