Cleveland’s Dylan Baldi has something great going for him and he knows it. On Cloud Nothings new self-titled debut full-length, the 19-year-old puts together an impressive collection of songs that showcases his talents for Carpark. Gone is the lo-fi scuzz from his parents’ basement that was present on the fantastic Turning On, as Baldi reaps the benefits of being in a proper studio with a producer like Baltimore’s Chester Gwazda.
From start to finish, Baldi powers through clean tracks chock full of hooks that won’t leave your head. From “Understand At All” through “All The Time,” he uses repetition to drill these hooks into your head so that they never, ever leave. From the lead single, “Should Have”: “I always knew I’d follow you / And I now I know that it’s much better.” I could do this for every song, but you get the picture.
When “Understand At All” and “Should Have” were released, I was a little afraid that the entire album was going to be the same, clean pop rock, but many of the songs have darker, punker sides. Most noticeable was “Not Important,” the second track following the kickoff of “Understand At All.” From the first lines of “You’re so ugly / I don’t really understand / Why you’re famous / I just know you’re good in bed” you know something’s different, especially with the lyrics delivered straight from the throat. The same goes for “Heartbeat,” which times in at a slick 1:09. For me, “Heartbeat” just seems to be the manifestation of hooks — one-liners that Baldi thought of and then strung together. After all, the only lines in the song are “All anyone wants to do is think of sun / All anyone wants to do is live all wrong” and “I don’t have a heartbeat / Why don’t you?”
Baldi definitely benefited from working with Gwazda, whose work on past Dan Deacon and Future Islands projects is awesome. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the fact that it was recorded in Baltimore gives it a little more of a connection to me. The production is clean, clear and nothing is too excessive. A song like “Nothing’s Wrong” has a bit of a Baltimore flair to it, with the sped up and spastic vocals and a little twist in the bass part, which adds some to the album, although it can ruin the flow a little bit.
The two crowning achievements of the album come at the end with two of the last three tracks, “Been Through” and “All The Time.” Both showcase pop punk riffs that nearly anyone can get into, while they both exhibit the hooks that are making Cloud Nothings great. “Been Through” opens with a repetition of “Nothing’s working” and “Do you feel alright? You shouldn’t” before launching into the breakdown-like chorus of “I am understanding but I can’t believe what you’ve been through,” another sweet and catchy hook. On “All The Time,” a fantastic closer to the album, Baldi sings of his friends, forever and never, before the chorus of “It happens all the time / At least that’s what they know.” Baldi shows a great understanding of how an album is supposed to be structured and how it’s supposed to flow, something that feels like is lost today.
Overall, Cloud Nothings self-titled is a fantastic 2011 release, and a great sign of things to come from a kid that’s only 19, but has one of the most expansive and versatile catalogs I’ve seen. It’s definitely worth picking up and giving a listen to right now.