Cloud Nothings is an interesting band. Headed by Dylan Baldi –the group was essentially born from a slew of fake band projects –then, they got lucky. Turning On is the Cloud Nothings album that lured the majority of fans in. Featuring a fuzzed out indie rock vibe, Turning On won the hearts of many. The follow-ups were all departures but if you wanted energetic, interesting, intelligent, and loud – Cloud Nothings was the band to turn to. Their latest release, Life Without Sound would hopefully be another healthy departure, but alas, it waivers. While it features more than just a few duds, it also tosses in a few enjoyable tunes.
Life Without Sound is turbulent –on one hand, it’s a fantastic pop-alt album but it’s a bad Cloud Nothings album. Truthfully, it seems as if the band never grew up; hell, they got more immature. For such sentimental music, it becomes problematic. Simultaneously, the band does shine through sometimes and leaves an ounce of hope; the instrumentals pull through pretty consistently and stand out against an awkward slew of vocal lines –and that’s not to say the vocals don’t ever have their moments. The biggest outbursts make for the most savorable moments. Life Without Sound leaves Cloud Nothings somewhere between Sunny Day Real Estate and Simple Plan –a very weird and ugly place to be.
The album kicks off with some keys –it’s a dramatic entrance considering what comes next. “Up to the Surface” is a disappointing departure from the band’s work. While we likely won’t see the dreamy fuzz of “Hey Cool Kid” ever again nor will the frustrated, downtrodden vibes from Attack On Memory return with such exciting eloquence, the least one could ask for is some of the same energy that went into Here and Nowhere Else. The band dropped the ball and as their latest album progresses, it battles a brutal uphill. “Up to the Surface,” eeks its way past the piano and cues the building tension; guitars and percussion lead to the slim-pickin’s meat of the song –a slew of boring guitar lines that sound like a preteen fumbling over a new instrument for the first time. Once you add an equally lazy percussion and it seems as if the band has moved back into their mom’s garage.
The follow-up, “Things Are Right With You,” begins to cement the idea that Dylan Baldi is slacking. See, the instrumentals gain more variety but Baldi’s voice has this constant sound to it –so familiar. As he sings out, “feel lighter” with an ugly and extensively drawn out “-er” you can almost put your finger on that maddening, familiar sound. It’s as if Baldi is singing through a desk fan or a can. It pins him as a musician better fit for more poppy mall-emo than whatever this endeavor is. The next track returns to the lackluster. It’s a bit more excited but with obnoxious predictability –“Internal World” sounds like a rip from alternative rock radio, 2005. I’m not trying to diss that sort of thing either, but frankly, Life Without Sound has such an unoriginal start that it’s difficult to find any merit in the first half of the album.
Listening to Life Without Sound is troubling to say the least. Cloud Nothings fans might find themselves fighting to find the album enjoyable. But here’s the thing –Baldi and the band do have their moments. About half way through, the band whips out, “Darkened Rings.” It’s a tribute to insomnia and while the lyrics aren’t as witty as one would hope for, the vocals lose that metallic quality and become motivated –provoked by some form of emotion that Baldi seems to commit to more naturally. The guitars are lively and the keys are thunderous. The percussion adds a great wall of sound, a beautiful layer of texture, with a simple but effective rhythm. It sounds like something the band would produce, it sounds fresh, and it sounds genuine. Sadly this moment is killed by the following track, but hereon, Cloud Nothings begins to step it up in a desperate attempt to recover the album. “Modern Act” features a cheery, less distorted guitar. It’s surprisingly bright with vocals that notch themselves into the melancholy jam with an appropriate mix of emotion. At times energetic, at times honest and burned out. The guitars soar with some of the most interesting parts the album sees.
Life Without Sound has the potential to be polarizing. The first half of the album is lacking and features some of the most embarrassing songs the band could produce. The latter half tosses in a few that are more or less forgettable and a few that could save the album as a whole. Admittedly, the closing tracks, “Strange Year” and “Realize My Fate” are fantastic kicks –they add a dash of screams and intensity that the album begged for early on. Overall, Life Without Sound is not worth a start-to-finish listen, but it is salvageable. This isn’t Cloud Nothings’ best work but it’s decent. At its worst, Life Without Sound is an awkward homage to mall-emo. At its best, the album features some select songs that may as well be Cloud Nothings hits. It’s a mix bag, but for fans of the band, a necessity.