Liked That? Try This is a fortnightly column: I pick a trending album and recommend three others based on their shared musical ideas, aesthetics or approaches. This week – Life Without Sound by Cloud Nothings, released on the 27th of January
After modest beginnings, Cloud Nothings took a quantum leap in both popularity and critical acclaim with their third LP, Attack on Memory. Sporting a heavier sound courtesy of Steve Albini’s muscular production, tracks like ‘Stay Useless’ and the epic ‘Wasted Days’ married a thoroughly misanthropic worldview to towering choruses. Follow-up Here and Nowhere Else made no attempt to fix what wasn’t broken, but perhaps wary of diminishing returns Baldi has slowed the tempos and sanded down some of the rougher edges on the group’s latest, Life Without Sound. Opener ‘Up to the Surface’ begins with a plaintive piano line before building to to a coda that could only be described as stratospheric, while ‘Enter Entirely’ and ‘Internal World’ hark back to the band’s pop-punk roots with bright guitar lines and melody to the fore. Traces of the previous two records’ lyrical bitterness are not entirely absent, with the downcast fury of ‘Darkened Rings’ and ‘Realize My Fate’ providing welcome doses of existential angst. A sideways step perhaps, but Baldi’s ear for a great hook shines through as consistently as ever.
“I like the downcast introspection of the lyrics and the more stripped-down moments. Don’t forget the catchy tunes though!”
The Sound – Jeopardy
Paranoia, brooding and the grey dystopia of early 80s Britain are the foundations of The Sound’s debut LP – opener ‘I Can’t Escape Myself’ could serve in title alone as a manifesto for the entire genre. The track itself is an instant classic: initially built on a spare, claustrophobic groove reminiscent of Neu!’s relentless Motorik, the anxious listener is finally rewarded with glorious release as the chorus kicks in…for all of 3 seconds, before that same metronomic pulse reasserts itself, the ripples on the surface subside and the tension returns. The rest of the album follows a similar blueprint, with wiry guitar work and chilly synths facing off against Adrian Borland’s intense but never melodramatic vocals. Jeopardy is the Velvet Undergound and Nico of post-punk – underrated, hugely influential and still sounding fresh today.
“I like the transition to a more melodic, considered sound – what other bands have done this successfully?”
Superchunk – Here’s Where The Strings Come In
Though both bands share an affinity for fast tempos, boyish vocals and sticky melodies, Cloud Nothings and Superchunk have more in common than just sonic reference points. From noisy, half-formed debuts (Superchunk/Turning On) to a Steve Albini-produced breakthrough LP (No Pocky For Kitty/Attack on Memory), Cloud Nothings’ career trajectory thusfar bears an almost eerie resemblance to that of the 90s indie veterans. Here’s Where The Strings Come In might not be the chamber-pop masterpiece its title suggests, but songs like ‘Silverleaf & Snowy Tears’ and ‘Eastern Terminal’ show a band maturing gracefully, their youthful energy no longer a crutch for lightweight songs but a weapon to be used judiciously – listen to the way the exuberant ‘Hyper Enough’ barrels along on a gloriously messy guitar riff and try not to crack a smile.
“I like the heavy 90s influences but I’m not a complete dilettante so I’ve already listened to Weezer and Pavement.”
Jawbreaker – Dear You
There was perhaps no easier way to attain pariah status in the 90s alternative scene than to ‘sell out’ and move to a major label. This treatment more harshly or unfairly meted out than to post-hardcore legends Jawbreaker prior to the release of their should’ve-been-a-breakthrough record Dear You. Ironically, the band themselves had previously railed against this kind of bullshit indie elitism on fan favorite ‘Boxcar’, but that wasn’t enough to prevent the album being unfairly dismissed on release. But what a waste – the bigger production and cleaner sound suited the band perfectly, allowing their ever more literate lyrics and tighter songwriting to shine through more clearly than ever on ‘Save Your Generation’ and ‘Fireman’. Fortunately, this more accessible approach to the emotionally-charged traditions of post-hardcore would not be forgotten, influencing countless bands in later generations – Cloud Nothings among them.