Album Review: Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound

By Eli Shively, General Manager
[Carpark; 2017]
Rating: 7/10

Key Tracks: “Internal World,” “Modern Act”

Cloud Nothings’ Dylan Baldi has never taken this long to make one album, and it shows. His career’s been defined up to this point with more loosely composed, abstract portraits of the artist — the brilliant hook-heavy noise of both Attack on Memory and Here and Nowhere Else, while undoubtedly game-changing, had its fair share of structural holes upon close inspection. Those records radiated haste and indecision, but that’s what made them charming.

Not Life Without Sound. The band’s fifth full-length is their most cohesive effort yet, kicking the garage rock jumpiness out of the picture in favor of more a carefully crafted, but nonetheless hard-hitting collection of tunes. It’s definitely a Cloud Nothings record through and through, but at the same time sounds like it’s spent a little extra time in the incubator.

Baldi’s wailing and riff-heavy guitar work still rest firmly in the driver’s seat, but he exercises a bit more self-control with it here, only really letting loose when the time is exactly right. “Internal World” could have easily been a little bit quicker and completely submerged in power-chord fuzz, but the moderate dosage of the latter is infinitely more satisfying and gives the song more room to breathe.

This more relaxed approach is the most important thing Life Without Sound brings to the table — Baldi’s always been a brilliant pop-rock songwriter and proves it once again here, but doesn’t give himself as much room to hide. The record truly shines when it throws the weight of the listener’s attention onto the power of the song itself, earning itself the role of the most mature-sounding and thoughtful Cloud Nothings release to date. Tracks like “Modern Act” and “Enter Entirely” feel confident and comfortable in their excellence like nothing the band has recorded before.

While lacking much of the youthful energy and grit that helped make the band into a household name in indie rock, even longtime fans will find Life Without Sound to be a more than welcome entry in the Cloud Nothings catalog. It isn’t their most memorable or necessarily even their best work, but it feels like a step in the right direction.

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