By A.D. Amorosi; photo by Ryan Manning on March 1, 2012
Dylan Baldi’s lo-fi-prodded pop is a wonder to behold, a youthfully ebullient sun-shiny thing that when pushed into the red becomes the raw but childishly emotional Cloud Nothings.
There’s been a brash kid’s romanticism to Cloud Nothings’ homemade recordings—cassette-only singles and EPs taped throughout 2009 and stamped onto CD for the Turning On compilation—and its studio-simple first album Cloud Nothings that shows off Baldi’s age (he’s not yet 20 years old) despite that debut’s most notable lyrical lamentation: “I get old so fast.”
Baldi giggles when he hears those lyrics now.
“I feel 20, certainly young in the grand scheme of things,” he laughs. “I don’t think of myself as an elder and wise just because I make music. A couple years of touring and recording doesn’t make me smarter or more interesting.”
Yet he can’t help but confess to a weary weightiness creeping through Cloud Nothings’ newest album, Attack on Memory, produced by the famed Steve Albini. Where before Baldi’s usual sound could be categorized as a flossier Wavves–meets–The Jesus and Mary Chain, the whole Attack affair is densely rockist (think The Replacements underwater) without losing its jaunty sense of melody.
“I don’t know if it’s necessarily gloomier but it is heavier,” admits Baldi. “There’s more on my shoulders. It’s important to grow up.”
Up, but not old.
“If it is darker to me, that’s because it was more interesting to do so.”
Since Cloud Nothings’ start, the Cleveland native has wanted to make certain everything he does sounds different from his last effort. Though his lyrical palate finds him toying with slightly different lonely personas, it is the sound and mood of his songs that is most crucial to him. “All three albums are different because I wanted to record them in a certain way. I wanted to have a specific sound.”
That sound isn’t the prized “lo-fi” because he thought of it as an aesthetic; it was more about pragmatism. Lo-fi is not a way of life to Baldi, whether he was recording in his bedroom at home or in a tiny makeshift studio. “I did the best with what I had,” laughs Baldi. “I was more concerned about the ambience of each record. They’re slightly in-the-red but not distorted. I wanted there to be lightness.” The EPs and singles that fill Turning On certainly show off his desires nicely. Cloud Nothings had even more breath, a tiny bit slicker and full-blooded, more robust in its sing-song melodies, yet continuing to sound small and confined.
“It had to be—I still only had one microphone,” says Baldi. “But I had learned the tools.” Plus, his approach changed when he hastily put a band together to accommodate tour dates in Manhattan. “That show in New York City came up fast, so I quickly grabbed some old pals I knew from the music scene in my hometown.” They never looked back and have been there ever since, happily expanding Cloud Nothings’ dynamic within old songs as well as new tunes.
“I went from doing everything myself to allowing these guys to play their own parts their own way.” Like Baldi’s favorite recordings, the singing, songwriting multi-instrumentalist wanted each project to show off a unique personality. Having a band made that a possibility.
Baldi is still very proud of the first two Cloud Nothings albums but earning a band-in-the-van-for-two-years feel for his third full-length makes it more rewarding and unlike anything he’s ever made. That’s partly why he used the title Attack on Memory as an umbrella over the sugary-sweet-but-dusky “Stay Useless” and the one-take wonder of “Our Plans.” Baldi and company use a completely different form of attack.
“Moving forward from what you thought you knew about us, it’s just more fun to do these songs this way than doing them on my own and sitting in my room,” laughs Baldi. “Recording myself hour after hour got boring. This album is pretty exciting.” F
3 albums that inspired Cloud Nothings’ Dylan Baldi to make music
The immediacy makes it unique, as if they were really excited by what they were playing. They didn’t seem to think they were going to get rich but they were having a lot of fun in the process.
Back in Black
I don’t hear any of this in my music but it’s one of my favorites. It’s cartoony; they don’t take themselves seriously at all. I thought what they did onstage would look cool to do. I’m not so sure it looks cool now.
Youth of America
It’s one of the first records I ever heard where how it comes across is crucial to what it is—that can truly make or break an album. They influenced me to make records and make them sound a certain way.