On paper, pop music is in a kind of dismal state. It’s tough to find true innovators, and imitators are a dime a dozen. I don’t see it as a problem, though; instead, it presents a challenge. In order to make their marks, bands and artists need to find innovative ways of mimicry. Pop music has a lexicon, one out of which people can define their own voices. A lot of current bands start off by showing you that they’ve done their listening homework, then showing you they can run with the lessons they learned from their favorite records. Best-case scenario, it’s a lot of fun to see where they land.
Cleveland’s own Cloud Nothings is one of those fun bands. In the last year or so, they’ve put out a slew of records that are as catchy as they are difficult to pin down. At the station, we’ve gotten the Didn’t You 7,” and the full-lengths Turning On and Cloud Nothings. Didn’t You consists solely of a pair of songs: the title track, and “Even if it Worked Out” on the flip side. The most striking thing here-–and on the albums as well-–is CN mastermind Dylan Baldi’s serious songwriting chops. These two songs are dripping with the same kind of effortless cool and combination of earnestness and devil-may-care panache that made both The Strokes and The Cars household names. Oh, and they’re catchy. Really, really catchy.
Didn’t You sets a high bar for the Cloud Nothings, and its one that Turning On matches. In particular, songs like “Another Man,” “Morgan,” and the title track have the shambolic, analog charm that’s quickly becoming a staple of the Cloud Nothings’ sound. It’s a consistently strong album, and that’s what’s so impressive for such a young band (sorry guys, it was going to come up sooner or later). There are songs that you’ll like better than others, but none of the songs could be taken as filler. Turning On shows Baldi’s range in a way that Didn’t You simply can’t (by virtue of its brevity). Both songs on the 7” come and go pretty quick (and merit repeating), but songs like “Hey Cool Kid” go by slowly enough to sink in.
The band’s most recent full-length — self-titled — picks up right where Turning On left off. I’m hesitant to hurl an epithet like “mature” at this record, but for lack of anything better it’ll have to do. Powerpop gems like “Nothing’s Wrong” and “All The Time” have the same breathless urgency that made the 7″ and Turning On so charming, but songs like “Forget You All the Time” have a kind of elegiac, shimmering quality that offsets Baldi’s snottier moments. Sometimes Baldi pits these two styles against each other: “Understand it All,” would be another furious romp if it weren’t for Baldi’s nod to the Beach Boys’ textbook heartbreaker “You Still Believe in Me” seconds in. That Baldi uses the sour-to-sweet trick sparingly reveals a kind of poise rarely found in this line of work.
Whether or not Baldi’s breaking new ground is irrelevant. I could name-drop bands that sound like the Cloud Nothings for a while, and some of you could go on even longer, but it’s a pointless exercise. This early on in his career, Baldi seems primed to vault to the front of the powerpop pack on the strength of his innate knack for hooks, and his grasp of this sound. What’s scary is that he’s just getting started. (Matt Orenstein)
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RIYL, briefly: The Cars, The Strokes, Dillinger Four, The Cranberries, and The Mice (Cloud Nothings of yesteryear)