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Artist: Cloud Nothings

Album: Cloud Nothings

Label: Carpark

Review date: Jan. 18, 2011


Cloud Nothings - "Understand At All" (Cloud Nothings)


It’s natural to imagine Cloud Nothings’ new self-titled album to be more of the same from the slept-on Turning On, only with a better mix and master. But a lot more than the fidelity has changed in a year. This band has learned how to pivot on a song going full speed for maximum impact. Instead of just barreling along for three minutes, there are twists now that will bowl you right over if you aren’t prepared.

The album’s coherence demonstrates a talent that has picked up some considerable skills. The 11 songs here are not only 90-percent hit single material; they work together in concert as an album (as well as in pairs and trios). The rambunctious and hindsight-obsessed “Should Have” sets up the melancholy denial of “Forget You All the Time,” which arguably finds resolution in the upswing of “Nothing’s Wrong.” Maybe. The opening lyrics, “You know this happens all the time,” reappear in closer “All the Time,” a summary of the “teenage heart” that keeps Cloud Nothings ticking.

Consider Cloud Nothings the anti-Wavves. Nineteen-year-old Cleveland native Dylan Baldi deals in the same infinitely youthful pop that 24-year-old San Diego native Nathan Williams so deftly exploited on King of the Beach. The difference comes from comportment: while Williams (sometimes literally) fights growing up by clinging to his baser juvenile instincts, Baldi’s rendering of the teenage human condition as universally relatable projects a wisdom way beyond the legal drinking age.

Indie rock and pop punk has always thrived on emotionalism, based on making you feel something. The songs are unidirectional. Cloud Nothings, though, are interested in engagement. There is a nakedness to what Baldi is singing and the notes that accompany him, which drives home a very particular and moving empathy. The differences are subtle, so when they strike, they strike deep. “Been Through” goes through the standard breathless motions of coping with aging. Then when it’s time to hit the disbelief platitude, he flips the subject, singing “I am understanding / but I can’t believe what you’ve been through.” It’s not about what he or she or whoever put Baldi through that he can’t cope with. It’s concern over an inexplicable event in someone else’s life that leaves him pulling at his hair.

Such selflessness is something to aspire to, and given the commonality of concerns for Cloud Nothings, it’s totally possible. The record quickly becomes a collection of mantras, self-help tips and anthems. All the titles are axioms, common experiences, or feelings ripped straight from everyday life: “Understand at All,” “Not Important,” “Should Have,” “Forget You All the Time,” “Nothing’s Wrong,” “You’re Not That Good at Anything,” “Been Through,” “All the Time.” And they are all basic expressions of frustration, which, if you were to hold forth on the belief that frustrated youth are the basis and the hope of punk, makes this one of the punkest records in a long time. Forget the inscrutability of Pavement or the commercial hearts-on-sleeves of Blink-182. Just give it to me straight.

By Evan Hanlon

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