Cloud Nothings’ new record makes me enormously happy. Not because it is an enormously happy record (quite the reverse is true), or even that it is an enormously good record (it is good, but not that good). Let me explain.
There are two essential ingredients for making good music; innovation and emotion. And in my opinion innovation is merely a conduit to emotion – it doesn’t sound believable if it sounds too much like something else, as if you’re aping another sound you can’t be being genuine.
Recently there has been another hubbub around the idea that guitar music is dead. The death of guitar music is usually cited as being due to a lack of innovation. There are only so many chord patterns and riffs you can get out of a six string instrument. Has anyone considered that the perceived decline is actually due to a lack of emotional guitar music? That the lack in innovation is in fact cause of the real problem – no one means it anymore. The countless blues, surf and pop rock revivalists sound boring not because they sound like copyists, but because sounding like copyists makes them sound like they have no soul.
Cloud Nothings’ previous two records are exactly that. Fuzzy pop punk that so many music writers like to call charmingly shambolic. I’ve never understood this, why does bad production equal charm? With Steve Albini on production duties Attack on Memory was never going to appeal to the bedroom recording fetishists, but that is not the main reason why this record is so infinitely better than the prior ones.
The chief reason is that Dylan Baldi and his band now mean it. Baldi explained that when they set out with this record, he realised that they hadn’t been making the music that they actually liked or listened too. So that’s what they did. It means that this isn’t the most innovative record ever (more on the influences later), but it’s just different enough for the emotion to pour through.
Which is why this record makes me so happy. It is stacked with emotions, all of them, from happiness to sadness to pure unadulterated anger and angst. Which is what makes me happiest. Anger and angst have become distinctly unfashionable emotions in music in the last 10 years or so, somehow we’ve let the metalheads have almost exclusive rights to use of anger in music, and they never really did it very well. Back in the mid to late ’90s and early ’00s there were some bands who did it very well; Jawbreaker, Braid, Far. But somehow emo got polished into a pile of terrible cheesey pop punk which was marketable to teenagers (Taking Back Sunday, My Chemical Romance, 30 Seconds from Mars) and being emotional in guitar music became an understandably heinous crime.
Which is why Baldi’s screams of ‘no future, no past’ on Attack’s opening track sound to me like someone has hit rewind, erased the crimes of the last 10 years and picked up where the bands on Dischord, Jade Tree and Deep Elm were heading 10 years ago and brought it to a mainstream audience by way of making two fuzzy pop punk albums to gain attention before getting to the good stuff. I just hope that they continue to mean it.