The indie rock game can be played in many ways, and during the past seven years, Cloud Nothings has jumped all over the board. In 2010, back when the band was the solo project of singer-songwriter Dylan Baldi, it had the lighthearted power pop sound of Rooney and Phantom Planet—the kind that conjures up images of sunny California (never mind that Baldi is from Ohio). On 2012’s Attack on Memory, it was decidedly darker and brasher; in 2015, its punky spirit shone in a collaborative album with Wavves. Always, though, some key features have persisted, designating the band as one to watch—repetitive, anthemic hooks; expressive vocals; and gloriously noisy guitars.
Now, yet another side of Cloud Nothings has come to light with the release of Life Without Sound—and it’s sure to dazzle old fans and curious newcomers alike. With relentless energy and lyrics that read like a cross between passionately scribbled journal entries and mantras for meditation, Life Without Sound is the perfect soundtrack for your vague everyday musings.
The first minute of the first track, “Up To The Surface,” is an exercise in suspense. The song begins with the simple sound of a piano. Eventually, guitars and drums join in; then Baldi starts singing in a polished, clear voice. The track is relaxed in a Coldplay-ish way, but that doesn’t keep it from maintaining its momentum. Its haunting final lyric—“I knew peace in the terror of the mind”—establishes the tone for the rest of the album, which contains moments of both catharsis and confusion.
The next track, “Things Are Right With You,” is definitely a standout. Its upbeat pace, pop punk aura, and cheery chorus—“feel right, feel right, feel right, feel lighter”—have the power to make even a mundane stroll under a grey sky seem like a triumphant occasion. The song is also notable because it contains the lyric “No use in life without sound,” which gives the album its title. Hearing it is like hearing a movie character using the movie’s title in conversation—electric and insightful.
The middle portion of the album keeps the action going. Almost every song could be a single on alternative rock radio. Highlights include “Darkened Rings,” a keyboard-tinged rock-and-roll frenzy, and “Modern Act,” which is reminiscent of Yellowcard’s “Five Becomes Four” but poses intriguing questions about war, God, and loneliness.
The album’s final two tracks pack its most powerful punch. “Strange Year” is instantly more menacing than any of its antecedents—and arguably more enticing. When Baldi draws out the word “down,” sounding like Hades descending to the underworld in a rock opera, his voice melds wonderfully with the song’s gritty, almost apocalyptic vibe. A melodic chorus and gentle guitar strumming ensue. Then, just when you think the song is about to calm down, the shouting is unleashed—something that was not foreshadowed at all, but comes as a pleasant surprise. Last is “Realize My Fate”—the grand finale. If Oasis and Nirvana had a kid and he went on a contemplative retreat in the desert, his inner monologue would sound like this. The pounding drums and tense-sounding guitars create a sonic environment that draws out the emotion in every word Baldi sings. Although his lyrics consist solely of a few repeated phrases, the song never seems redundant, for every refrain is more intense then the last. The masterpiece builds up to a roar before a tide of silence takes over, forcing the listener to stop and take in what has just occurred.
Life Without Sound shows Cloud Nothings rolling down an exciting road—one that’s sure to lead the band to many jam-packed shows and happy crowds of new fans. Whether you’re trying to “realize your fate” or simply “feel lighter,” check it out—you’ll likely find yourself singing along (and maybe even feeling like you’re on a contemplative desert retreat at times).