Like a Polaroid slowly resolving itself, Turning On first hints dimly at the pop contours of its songs, allowing wisps of melodic imagery to emerge from inchoate hiss and fog. But then, as the CD unfurls, the image gradually clears. By “Morgan,” the next to last track, there’s a stake through the band’s fuzz-evoking name. The last few cuts, from cassette splits and limited 7” singles, are neither clouds nor nothing, but a fairly exciting intimation of songwriting skill.
Turning On collects the work to date of one Dylan Baldi: a nine-song EP, two songs from a limited edition split with Campfires, and two songs from a 7” single from Group Tightener. The arc of development is all the more surprising when you consider how quickly it’s happened. Baldi, who comes from Cleveland, started making songs in his basement only about a year ago with the most minimal of recording equipment. By December of last year, he had put together a band – TJ Duke on bass, Jayson Gerycz on drums and Joe Boyer on guitar – and was playing shows with Real Estate and Woods. He toured with Wavves this year.
Instantaneous, bloggy success of this sort is not exactly a recipe for inner growth and reflection, but Baldi seems to be learning as he goes. The songs from the Turning On EP, the first nine on the Carpark disc, have a fizzy, fuzzy energy, bursting like firecrackers out of indifferent playing and recording. You can hardly make out early cuts like “Can’t Stay Awake” or “Turning On”, but even so, get kind of a contact rush from the sheer sugary miasma of the songs. Early on, Baldi displays a bit of fondness for the Orange Juice-y trick of combining funk-tinged bass and drums with wistful pop tunefulness. “You Are Opening,” the first cut with enough structure to stand on its own, bristles with twitchy disco riffs, then slathers them with longing. The track is simultaneously brittle with bravura and limp with dreamy melancholy -- a snapshot of early infatuation. “By Hey Cool Kid,” halfway through, the fog is still there, but far less suffocating. You can begin to pick out a slanted jangle of guitars, a simple but compelling melody.
Two songs from a split with Campfires follow the main body of the EP, and here, you can tell that Baldi has been playing with a band for a while. “My Little Raygun” sounds like a happier, better-adjusted Jay Reatard, its dreamy refrains spiked by staccato post-punk aggression. “I Am Rooftop” is slower paced, but just as sharp in the guitars and drums.
But it’s with the two songs from the Group Tightener single that Baldi really breaks out. “Morgan,” by far the best song on the disc, sounds like a different band, its scrambling punk rock guitars breaking for goofy samples and Cloud Nothing’s most memorably melody yet. “Another Man,” the b-side, is good, but not as good, both tracks standing a good head taller than anything else on Turning On.
The compilation’s trajectory slants sharply upward, from muddy, half-baked, basement-dreamed beginnings to solid work with a live band to hints of something sharper, more abstract and eccentric. It’s hard to believe that it only took a year and about a dozen songs to get this far, and it will be interesting to see what Baldi does in 2011.
By Jennifer Kelly