Cloud Nothings: Attack on Memory
Dylan Baldi, 20, says he isn’t sure of what he wants to do yet. However, by the time he signed to Carpark in 2010, he sure seemed like he knew. Baldi first launched one brief musical endeavor after another with MySpace accounts, such as former band Neon Tongues and a solo project called Cat Killer (“Ambient / Minimalist / Pop”). But then he committed to the messy, lo-fi Cloud Nothings––most memorably, when he dropped out of Case Western Reserve University to open in New York for Woods and Real Estate.
Baldi signed to Carpark, then released his Turning On EP, where he buried his sweet-sounding voice under squiggles of guitar lines and spurts of ideas. In its self-titled, Cloud Nothings blossomed from a D.I.Y. solo project into a D.I.Y.-sounding, four-man band, as Baldi gargled up syllables before he thought to spit them out. (Lyrics, as he’s had to explain, were usually an afterthought.) As people listened and fondly compared him to The Replacements, Superchunk, Teenage Fan Club, earlier R.E.M., and earlier Weezer, Baldi was still searching for who he is, what he likes, and most importantly what he doesn’t like––at least, at the moment. And he’s had to explain, too, why his own experimentation, fickleness, aimlessness isn’t particularly remarkable. “I’m just documenting my decisions as I get older,” he said.
But under the watchful eye of producer Steve Albini, Cloud Nothings’ latest, Attack on Memory, plays out like a well-planned assault––succinct, calculated, often bracing itself for the inevitable explosion of aggression and agony. “No Future/No Past” plunges into precisely what’s at stake from the start; as piano chords trudge reluctantly behind Baldi’s measured battle cry: “Give up / come to / no, we’re through.” And the nine-minute “Wasted Days,” in particular, hardly feels like wasted energy. Less than halfway through, a singular guitar whimpers, then dies down as it suffocates under the rest of the band’s whirring, hefty weight––whines and shakes uncontrollably, until it lets out one last cry and Baldi, too, insists that his increasingly hoarse wail be heard one last time.
The venom and vitriol in Baldi’s voice is an easy reminder that he’s young, but he’s also remembered to listen––and pay close attention to––Nirvana’s Nevermind. More importantly, though, is the chorus that Baldi’s admittedly had stuck in his head throughout the entire recording process: that of Polvo’s “Feather of Forgiveness,” which repeats three times, “I want to put you in a light that will hurt your eyes.” Baldi’s clearly focusing on one person in particular who’s wronged him––as revealed at the very end, someone who’s left him for another male. And as a result, he’s choosing and orchestrating his words just as carefully, transforming them into mantras as he channels his anxieties and frustrations into full-blown anger.
Attack on Memory‘s deliberate nature makes for a strangely comforting listen, as song after song seems to offer clear-cut instructions on how to breathe, attack, and release. Still, when least expected––in the sunnier middle of it all, recalling his poppier ambitions in Cloud Nothings’ self-titled––Baldi casts out what resonates as an important disclaimer: “I need time to stop moving / I need time to stay useless.”
A few weeks later, Christina Lee talked with Dylan Baldi for FANZINE about the reasons why he dropped out of Case Western Reserve University, the sort of music his bandmates like and why Attack on Memory is essentially a live set put to tape. Cloud Nothings plays at the EARL in Atlanta on Friday, February 17.
Christina Lee: What bands were you listening to growing up, as you learned how to play music?
Dylan Baldi: I listened to basically what my parents listened to, which was a lot of classic rock like AC/DC and Elvis Costello and things like that, right up until I started looking into indie or whatever in high school. So for the most part I listened to older rock.
CL: You opened for Woods and Real Estate not long after you dropped out of school. How did you feel going into that gig?
DB: Well, I used it as a reason to drop out of school, just because I was looking for a reason to drop out anyway, because I wasn’t enjoying myself. So I felt pretty good, to be with these bands making music. And even though I knew my music wasn’t necessarily getting on the radio or things like that, I saw that I could actually make a living while playing to a relatively big crowd. It seemed like I had done the right thing, doing what I did, and it seemed like it could be an actual job, even if just for the short term.
CL: What were the main reasons why you weren’t enjoying your time at school??
DB: I just didn’t like going to classes, basically. I’d done some of that again over the summer and it was painful. I’m not really looking to get back into that kind of pattern, routine. I still don’t really enjoy it.
CL: How did you explain to your parents that this was the best decision for you??
DB: I think they kind of had a feeling, that that’s what I’d end up doing anyway. So when I told them, it wasn’t like a big shock or anything. And I just … told them, basically. I didn’t have a huge justification or anything like that. I’d already figured that this was what I was going to do with my life, so may as well start now.
CL: How did you meet your current bandmates [bassist TJ Duke, drummer Jayson Gerycz and guitarist Joe Boyer]??
DB: They’re just friends of mine, from my shows and from generally hanging out. It’s been this line-up since the band started.
CL: Why do you think you guys work so well together??
DB: I don’t know. I’m kind of lucky that we work so well together, I guess just because we’re all friends anyway. It just kind of happened––like hey, I need a band right away. So I had these friends and it just worked out. I don’t really know the specifics of why, it just kind of does.
CL: What are some examples of music that your bandmates turned you onto, who you wouldn’t have checked out otherwise?
DB: Well my drummer especially is always trying to find new music; I don’t really get so excited about new stuff or look into new music a whole lot. He really likes Lightning Bolt, but he’s also just really into great drummers. So I just started listening to a lot of that, because he’d tell me to do so.
CL: Have you seen Lightning Bolt live??
DB: Yeah, maybe a year ago or something. They’re great.
CL: You’ve said in the past that your listeners would be surprised to hear you play more aggressively in a live setting. Can you give an example??
DB: It wasn’t like the entire audience would leave the show while we were playing or something. But every once in a while a person would come up to me and be like, "Hey, I listened to the record," and they thought we’d be calm and quiet like the first album was, but then, you know, the live set wasn’t like that at all. But it’s never been like, someone was upset or something. It was always kind of like, with what I’d done before the band, people react differently to that but only slightly so. That was why I wanted to work with a band––because no one had ever reacted negatively to the fact that we would play loud, but everyone would always thought it was different. So with this record, we wanted it to sound like a live show would.
CL: Do you have a favorite song off Attack on Memory??
DB: Probably "Wasted Days," the second song. It’s just the funnest to play, and there’s a lot of room to experiment, I guess, every time we play. We haven’t played it the same way twice; it’s just fun to have that option.
CL: You say that you go into songs not even knowing what you’re going to sing. What has it been like to hear other people’s interpretations of the lyrics?
DB: Other people’s interpretations are always interesting. I don’t really read reviews of my records, so I don’t know a whole lot of what people are saying unless someone says it to me. But from what I’ve seen, people have been pretty much on the mark in terms of what we were trying to do and what we were trying to say. People seem to get it.
Attack on Memory is available through Carpark Records here.