Try all you like, but it’s practically impossible to resist pumping your fists in the air or pounding on the steering wheel to “I’m Not Part Of Me.” While buried as the closer on Cloud Nothings’ new album, Here And Nowhere Else, this is the kind of explosive, hair-raising song that you’ll hit repeat as soon as it ends, just so you can shout along to the line “I’m not telling you all I’m going through” with satisfying defiance. And then there’s that chorus — “But I’m not, I’m not you / You’re a part of me, you’re a part of me” — which is so emblematic of what makes Dylan Baldi, the Cleveland, Ohio band’s primary force, such a potent frontman: He’s exceptional at piling three song’s worth of melodic pop hooks into one raucous punk banger.
Like so many songwriters, Baldi turned to music as a way of expressing his boredom, isolation and bottled-up anger. Soon his basement project grew into a full band, turning those melodic, hissy songs into throttling two-and-a-half minute bursts of youthful angst. With, Attack On Memory, its breakthrough second full-length album from 2012, the band turned to Steve Albini to help steer the ship away from jangling power pop and unleash a newfound pummeling noise. Crammed with scorching distortion (“Wasted Days”) and vocal cord-shattering, yet singable choruses (“Stay Useless”), those pop punk songs were loud and fun, but with a sneering, pissed-off tone that felt especially cathartic.
With Here And Nowhere Else, the band maintains, even hones that gloriously abrasive fury. But it’s gotta be exhausting carrying around that weight just so you can turn that pain into lyrics to be howled out on stage. Here, Baldi shows considerable growth in his song craft as he reflects on his life and relationships with a sense of nostalgia — seemingly self-aware that without choices he’s made, he wouldn’t be where he is now. “I’m moving forward while I keep the past around me,” he sings on “Pattern Walks,” one of several songs in this new batch that come off as, if not fully upbeat, then positive. “I was feeling pretty good about everything so I just made stuff that made me happy,” he explains.
A taut eight songs, (adding a ninth track would simply be repeating themselves, Baldi has said) this album exudes a sense of urgency. No doubt, it’s the result writing in fits and starts while on the road for the last 18 months; not to mention Baldi playing these songs for his bandmates — bassist TJ Duke and drummer Jayson Gerycz — mere days before heading into the studio.
This time, the band called upon producer extraordinaire John Congleton, to record over a long week at Water Music in Hoboken, N.J. — and later mix at his Dallas, Texas studio. Compared to his contributions this year with artists like St. Vincent and Angel Olsen, Congleton wields a far lighter stylistic touch with Cloud Nothing. Functioning more as an engineer and documentarian, Congleton captured the trio playing as a live band, yet brought out subtle sounds that unfurl upon each listen. For a guitar-based, punk-infused rock record, this one’s surprisingly a “grower” — something Baldi admits he’s always wanted to create.
Not that you have to wait that long to grab you: Right away, in the poppy opener song, “Now Here In,” the guitar distortion hits you like a scatter-shot blast of rock salt in the chest as Baldi howls “I feel there’s nothing left to say / Assume that life can be so strange.” Elsewhere, Cloud Nothings gets heavier than ever with Gerycz’s machine gun drum rolls on the not-quite-hardcore screamer “Just See Fear,” and with the squelching feedback on “Pattern Walks” — which gets a lengthy jam midway through. And on the melodic “Psychic Trauma,” Baldi returns to common themes of painful memories and the passing of time. With Here And Nowhere Else, Cloud Nothings has crafted a thoughtful, blistering set of songs that will linger well after the mosh pit fizzles out.