There’s nothing like making a good entrance.
Cleveland, Ohio indie rockers Cloud Nothings blasted their way on to most people’s music radars with their blistering third album ‘Attack on Memory’. Packed full of frenzied post-grunge riffs and post-everything teenage angst, the record was a powerful statement of “here we are, pay attention to us now.”
After that the only challenge was to record a follow up that had the same impact. For ‘Here and Nowhere Else’ Cloud Nothings have mostly attempted to eschew a repeat of their last album, instead diving into songs with subtlety, song with layers, the type of songs which take a few listens to fully appreciate.
Unfortunately after more than a few listens it’s still hard to find all that much to savour on ‘Here and Nowhere Else’.
Quieter Today takes its cues from weird blend of grunge and pop-punk, but never seems to know quite what to do with said influences. It rolls seamlessly from strained, angst-ridden vocals to a perky, upbeat chorus, without so much as a hint of irony. Likewise Psychic Trauma seems to be aiming for a similar level of inexpressible torment, but is tempered by too much of a pop melody to ring true. If they were trying to name the song after what it sounded like, Mild Headache or Vague Sense of Ennui may have been more appropriate.
The highlight of the album may be its longest track, Pattern Walks. The mammoth number starts off centred around an almighty bass riff that propels the song into a kind of heaviness that hasn’t even been attempted thus far on the album. It then spirals off I into a sweeping seven and a half minute implosion of sound, with new layer stacking tighter and tighter on top of each other until there is hardly even the space left to distinguish between instruments and there is nothing there but an impermeable barrier of pure noise.
It may be an obvious attempt to replicate a song like Wasted Days, but the familiarity is actually an improvement on an album that elsewhere tries too many new things and doesn’t quite succeed.
It certainly feels that way when Pattern Walks gets followed up by lead single I’m Not Part of Me. The album’s final song pulls things back in a more homogenised pop direction, as if acknowledging that the noisemaking of the likes of Pattern Walks or Wasted Days is okay on a seven minute album track, but that such things have no place on the single. The single, rather, is where the band sell out and do their best to sound like the Strokes at their least interesting and most generic.
In its defence though, I’m Not Part of Me is catchy as hell.
It’s the easiest thing in the world for a critic to say “it wasn’t as good as the last one.” And in many ways that well-worn, go-to default criticism shouldn’t even apply here. Cloud Nothings are very clearly shooting at a very different target than they were with ‘Attack on Memory’.
For one thing ‘Here and Nowhere Else’ has more individuality on it, as well as a less obvious indebtedness to influences. But even after all of that the fact remains that it just isn’t as enjoyable to listen to, it individual tracks are less interesting, less memorable, less exciting. It’s clear what they were going for, and for the most part it achieves it too, but that doesn’t make it the stronger record.
Cliché it may be, but Cloud Nothings’ last album sounded better.