Six years since their debut album, the Cloud Nothings are back with Life Without Sound, their most polished album to date. Frontman Dylan Baldi has historically had a lead foot on the songwriting accelerator, releasing albums in rapid succession, that is ,until he began writing Life Without Sound. Baldi took his time perfecting the album’s nine tracks with his band before he landed in El Paso, Texas at the Sonic Ranch with producer John Goodmanson (Sleater Kinney, Death Cab For Cutie). Goodmanson hemmed and manicured the band’s signature serrated sound into a dynamic and easily palatable effort.
The rock and roll spirit is strong with Baldi, who dropped out of Case Western Reserve to pursue musical aspirations. The Cloud Nothings found traction with frenetic and distorted pop-punk stylings found in early songs like “Hey Cool Kid” and “Leave You Forever” and set off on a whirlwind pace of endless touring and successful album releases. Life Without Sound sounds like the band has finally landed on solid ground and the angst, urgency, and distortion that characterized their early work has almost completely dissipated.
Opening track “Up To The Surface” immediately distances itself from the ‘Cloud Nothing’ sound with an ominous piano opening and a slow build to the chorus, instead of the expected breakneck search for melody. “Darkened Rings” gives a taste of that savory brashness that induces adrenaline but then backs off shortly after, while “Modern Act” reveals the brilliance of Baldi’s power pop writing but comes out almost too saccharine, as if the band is posturing to segue into arena-rock soon.
While I wouldn’t classify Life Without Sound as a musical dud, it does leave the listener desiring a bit more substance. The Cloud Nothings are synonymous with a reckless yet infectious sound that comes off muted and dare I say, castrated, by the over-producing and general lack of urgency. Baldi calls this album “My version of New Age music”- Yikes! Let’s hope making this album was cathartic enough to allow him to return to his natural state of hellbent melodic brilliance on the next one.