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Cloud Nothings are back with their catchiest LP yet with ‘Life Without Sound’

(digboston/Flickr)

Cloud Nothings never look to call any attention to themselves. Lead singer Dylan Baldi seems at this point to feel comfortable with the contrast of his band’s lofty reputation amongst music critics and their relative commercial obscurity, something that has come from rock music’s diminishing overall popularity.

Hailing from Cleveland, a city whose Rock and Roll Hall of Fame pales in popularity in comparison to its sports franchises and its star athletes, like LeBron James, Cloud Nothings doesn’t seek to bask in the limelight or concern themselves with their commercial status in comparison to other bands. Instead, they simply focus on the music, a formula which has allowed them to become the most consistent rock band out there today.

Some may feel that indie rock had its heyday in the 90s, when bands such as Dinosaur Jr., Built to Spill, Modest Mouse and Radiohead were re-defining the ways we heard and were moved by rock music. Cloud Nothings serve as an example that rock music has not, in fact, seen its better days. If there is anything that Cloud Nothings has taken from these bands, it’s a willingness to take risks with their music and not worry about what critical listeners may think.

The band’s new album, “Life Without Sound,” is a perfect example of the kind of experiments that Cloud Nothings are willing to take in order to put out another wonderful record that both compliments and stands out in their discography.

Look no further than the album’s opening track, “Up to the Surface,” to find the lighter rock style that Cloud Nothings’ new album takes on. The track opens with a pretty piano pattern, and slowly moves into a relaxing progression of chords that, unlike the angry, adrenaline-fueling jams of previous Cloud Nothings records, leaves the listener feeling at ease. This doesn’t change when Baldi begins to sing, as his voice has never been so crisp, nor have the band’s lyrics been so relevant to the shape of the song. “I came up to the surface/released the air,” Baldi sings, and indeed “Up to the Surface” feels like a breath of fresh air in the context of Cloud Nothings’ catalog.

The catchy “Internal World,” and some of “Life Without Sound”’s other upbeat tracks, mark the album more as a collection of individual songs that can be enjoyed time and again, unlike past Cloud Nothings records, which are best listened to in their entirety. In that sense, “Life Without Sound” is perhaps Cloud Nothings’ most accessible record, a distinction it achieves without foregoing anything in the way of quality.

“Modern Act,” “Life Without Sound”’s first single, is another great example of the why Cloud Nothings’ move away from its previous, angrier style is not necessarily a bad thing. It could be that Nathan Williams—lead singer of fellow punkers Wavves and a good friend of lead singer Dylan Baldi (they collaborated on the 2015 LP “No Life for Me”)—has pushed Baldi toward a brighter, more tuneful and accessible approach. Certainly, Williams has found success in moving away from his earlier, lo-fi sound, and now Baldi has too.

“Do you know what it’s like / To be out and alive? / To say you’re doing alright / Yeah, you’re doing just fine” Baldi sings on “Modern Act,” sticking to the newfound hopefulness that can be found throughout “Life Without Sound.” “Modern Act” is another immensely catchy song that quickly pulls in the listener, leaving us head bopping and singing along to the lyrics. Baldi’s voice is immensely polished, even pretty at times, making it one of the band’s most pleasant songs to date.

Though Baldi is only 25, his band is developing musically in a way no one could have predicted. The music of Cloud Nothings continues to speak for itself, and “Life Without Sound” is another incredible effort for a band that only came into existence seven years ago. “Life Without Sound” proves above all that rock is not dead, you just have to go find it.

William Plotnick can be reached at wplotnick@umass.edu.

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