LIFE WITHOUT SOUND by Cloud Nothings
Genre: Indie Rock
Favorite Tracks: “Up to the Surface,” “Modern Act”
Bands change over time. It’s an obvious fact of music; unless a band is a perfect expert at their craft and can make the same thing sound exciting album after album, they are going to have to make changes to their sound. The broadest examples are to make their sound more interesting through an expansion of their web of influences and new instrumentation, or to dumb down what makes the band interesting in the hopes of appealing to a wider audience. Unfortunately, I feel that Cloud Nothings fit far too snugly in the latter category.
Throughout their now four-album career, Cloud Nothings have mostly alternated between abrasive noise rock with guitars as tightly wound as a coiled spring, and smoother power pop with a constant sense of wayward loneliness and an ambitious approach to drumming and tempos. LIFE WITHOUT SOUND is more so an emo and indie record, both in sound and in meanings. With the exception of one blaring chord on “Enter Entirely,” it isn’t very sharp or noisy, but there’s also nothing interesting to make up for the removal of the same.
It suffers from problems typical of bad emo, namely a singer who sounds like he has comedically hit his head and hasn’t been restored to full cognitive function, and an over-reliance on people only enjoying the record if they can relate 100% to everything that is being said, which is often a lot of philosophical torment with zero levity or anything to ground it in real human struggle. It gets even worse when lead singer Dylan Baldi starts channeling the high-pitched rasp of Billy Corgan on deeper cuts like “Strange Year” and “Realize My Fate,” with no weight behind it because he has sounded so flat and unaffected by almost everything beforehand.
The record also takes some influences from post-hardcore, but the dynamic shifts of post-hardcore only work if each separate musical passage isn’t tedious and one note; the shift itself can’t be the most interesting aspect of the music, which it so often is on LIFE WITHOUT SOUND’s weak appeals to more ambitious compositions. The attempts at juxtaposition are so blatant and forced, especially on the jarringly quiet misfire of a pre-chorus on “Things are Right With You,” or the boring call and response of quiet versus loud on “Internal World,” and the choruses are similarly repetitive with no intensity created by repeating them. The final two tracks are perhaps the worst offenders, composed of two-thirds of obvious, monotonous build courtesy of creeping bass and steady marching-band drum beats, but the vocals aren’t emotive or dramatic enough to support it, and the eventual pay-off is not grand enough to warrant such a long, sluggish build.
The drum work is usually the most inspired item in the mix, especially the occasionally progressive rhythms of the toms, but they are overshadowed with some of the worst cymbal mixing I have encountered. Every time the other instruments are trying to develop a rhythm, the cymbals completely overtake everything else and steal your attention away. It wouldn’t be such a problem if it didn’t seem to occur on nearly every song on the record. Nothing else in the mix is raw and abrasive enough to match it, and as such, it honestly feels very amateurish. When an album moves up and down the various layers of its musical totem pole, it’s usually done to create an alien, surreal effect, but LIFE WITHOUT SOUND’s unorthodox mixing choices are so sloppy and repetitive that the only effect it creates is annoyance.
LIFE WITHOUT SOUND alternates between flat and obnoxious with what feesl like a handful of incomplete songs, made worse by directionless and sloppy mixing. The sad thing is that “Modern Act,” while it suffers from the same excessively loud cymbals, is a perfect example of what everything else on the album is trying to be. It takes a lot of interesting dynamic turns, provides a strong, relatable dreariness that matches said turns, has some impressively complex drum work, and features a charismatic and pleasant vocal performance. It’s proof that there is a possibility for greatness in what Cloud Nothings is trying to do, but they instead settle for an unambitious and unfulfilling sense of purpose, with nowhere near enough interesting musical ideas to support nine tracks.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend