Those privy to Cloud Nothings’ fantastic hugely pop-oriented 2017 album ‘Life Without Sound’ would be forgiven for thinking that Dylan Baldi’s cool neo-punk project had forever left behind its lo-fi past in pursuit of a purer sound that seemed more anti-noise than anti-establishment.
Held up against their more visceral early material, the group’s fifth record sounded positively polished; a gang of perennial outsiders forgoing abrasion for accessibility.
Yet, the aggressive style that has become the band’s artistic calling card returns heavier than ever on “Last Building Burning” – a work that kicking and screamingly contributes to punk’s recent revivification in the most thrilling of ways.
On their sixth LP, the band not only depart from a potential commercial highway, they skid headfirst back into the familiarly dangerous lanes of furious and unforgiving alternative rock. And, as always, Baldi is in the driving seat.
From the band’s humble origins in his parents’ basement, the Cleveland native has neatly masterminded Cloud Nothings’ ascension from bedroom concern to major alt-rock players.
But, with such discomfort and loss of identity in mind, this sixth effort appears very much the band leader’s own “In Utero” and “Metal Machine Music” rolled into one, a Cobain-like, Reed-esque sonic tantrum that rejects a momentary, and possibly regrettable, lapse into commercialism.
“Last Building Burning” is Baldi’s refusal to let his band become a synonym for acceptability, a belligerent and scintillating reinstatement of punk-rock principles both to himself and the wider world.
And the shackles come off as quickly as the album’s explosive opener ‘On An Edge’. As it rages into life, there’s little doubt that Baldi has re-nailed his scuzz-loving colours back to the mast. It’s a barely-comprehensible blast of screeching vocals and tumultuous noise – more hardcore than power-pop – that sets the tone for a subsequent display of challenging and defiant thrash-rock brimming with energy and anger.
‘The Echo of the World’ benefits from similarly throat-shredding vocals and bilious, never-letting-up guitars. ‘In Shame’ pummels by on drumskins that must pine for their former existence in a music store far, far away from Jayson Gerycz’s ruthless assault.
‘So Right So Clean’ fixes Baldi’s snarl upon waves of melody in a shining example of Cloud Nothings’ glorious adherence to the unconventional with ‘Dissolution’, a brutal and moody exercise in fury and feedback, running to nearly eleven minutes in a gloriously intentional needlessness.
If there’s still casual listeners around for such a chasm of unrestrained chaos, it’s Baldi and co.’s final fuck you to those who found them amidst their poppier period. A winsome exercise that, along with the rest of the album’s fine disregard for aural nicety, looks to shed such hangers-on for good.
With ‘Life Without Sound’, Cloud Nothings took a bite out of the mainstream. “Last Building Burning” is the sound of them baulking at the taste and then some. Sample it if you dare.
Words: Dan Owens