Like many of us, Cloud Nothings mastermind Dylan Baldi can’t get over the nagging sense that bad times are right around the corner. But unlike the rest of the world, he didn’t need a year of news terrible enough to make “dumpster fire” a household phrase to activate it.
“I always have some sense of impending doom,” Baldi said when I spoke to him over the phone last week prior to the release of the post-rock band’s upcoming full-length. “There’s always something terrible coming.”
Baldi’s previous albums with Cloud Nothings bear this out. A closer look at his last two albums — 2014’s Here And Nowhere Else, and before that Attack On Memory — reveal glimmers of end times epiphanies at every turn. And, as you might expect, always thinking about doom has left Baldi prepared. On “Stay Useless” — a standout from Memory, Cloud Nothing’s breakout album, he’s practically asking for it to come: “I need time to stop moving,” he begs in the chorus. “I need time to stay useless.”
But after several albums of making the end of days seem personal, Baldi’s ready to move it outside of his own head. Where previous work sounded like the inside of Baldi’s brain clattering down around him, tracks on Life Without Sound move on from the imagery of private turmoil and unleash the catastrophe on the outside world. Life Without Sound‘s “Sight Unseen” and “Up To The Surface” are built around portraits of a world that’s simultaneously burning up and sinking into the ocean.
“There was a night of war away,” he sings in a representative line, “A row of islands all ablaze.”
In spite of this — and maybe because these songs are finally released from the confines of Baldi’s head — Sound is Baldi’s airiest and most upbeat work since the band’s self-titled album from 2009, and it’s an album that Baldi said is meant to inspire. However, Baldi himself refused to doesn’t feel there’s really an increase in brightness on this record over previous albums.
“I don’t think the songs are that different,” he said. “I kind of just wanted to not be a band that made a nine minute song on every album.”
In fact, Baldi doesn’t believe in any through-line throughout the band’s history. He views each project as a complete clean slate. Which might explain why the albums continue to sound like the world is ending; it has to stop to start again.
“I always have stuff brewing,” he said. “Every record is me learning how to write songs again, basically. I’m throwing stuff at a wall and seeing what sticks.”
The one place where Baldi was willing to make connections between his albums is in the process that lead to them. All Cloud Nothings albums are banged out by Baldi alone on an acoustic guitar before becoming the massive full band numbers that made the band indie-famous. And Life Without Sound was no different.
“Attack On Memory was just me in my space and playing a borrowed guitar very quietly to myself,” he said. “For Here And Nowhere Else, I borrowed a shitty guitar and wrote the album by myself while I was living in Paris.”
And like those other albums, Sound was made in isolation.
“I was in a weird period in my life,” he said. “I was living on my own in a town where I didn’t know anybody.”
While his girlfriend was off working, Baldi turned in on himself and worked on the album and it comes through clearly on singles like “Internal World”, a song where Baldi repeatedly justifies being alone.
“Say what you are to anyone and you reveal you’re weak here,” he sings before adding that his internal world is the only one worth living in.
Though the making of Sound wasn’t all doom and gloom. The semi-fame of Cloud Nothings has had a notable effect.
“This time I leveled up,” he said. “I bought the acoustic guitar.”
While Baldi doesn’t concern himself with overarching narrative of his own band or their growing fame — he dismissively calls it a “hobby” that “people like for some reason” — Baldi is very concerned with the way that tracks flow into one another within a project, and that emphasis on sequencing shows on Life. The nine-track album is completely seamless, and each song flows into the next. The story it weaves is one of attempting to rise above the desire to wall yourself off from the chaos of the world. On “Modern Act,” Baldi stresses that he wants a social life but can’t decide if its worth venturing out into a world he can’t tolerate.
The album strings the listener along, giving them the sense that things will turn out for the best until it all comes thudding down on the fatalist beatdown “Realize My Fate.”
“That was going to be the first song on the record, but that would have been insane,” he said of the howling closer. “It ended up being the last song because it doesn’t fit anywhere else.”
For Baldi, the album sequencing makes it function as one big song, which is what helps the record feel like it’s overwhelming you, sweeping you along, and lifting you up all at once.
“I’m always super concerned with dynamics and I wanted to make sure the record moved as one big song with that as the big ending,” he added. “It’s like making a mixtape in that each song serves the song after, or it’s so different that you’re like ‘hmmm.'”
He added that the sudden shift from the uplifting tracks that preceded it to the punishing closer of “Fate” was inspired by one of his favorite things in music, the left-turn that leaves fans gobsmacked.
“What I like about that song is that it’s not like the rest of the album,” he said. “I like when a band puts out something that makes people confused on purpose. One of my favorite bands ever is The Wipers, they have one record [1980’s Is This Real?] that is catchy poppy punk. But their next record [1981’s Youth Of America] was six songs long with a 10-minute noise jam thrown in. I think that’s a cool thing to do.”
Nothing on Sound jars quite as much as the Wipers drastic shift between albums, it seems unlikely that Baldi’s love of internal consistency would have allowed it. But that ear for sequencing — and a sparse 38-minute runtime — makes Life Without Sound a great full-album listen, punishing closing track and all. Cloud Nothings have already given us two albums that are perfect for when you feel like your whole world is ending. Now, Baldi’s gone ahead and given us one for something a little larger. Stream Life Without Sound below.
Life Without Sound is out this Friday, 1/27 via Carpark Records. Get it here. Full tour dates below.
01/26 — Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Ballroom
01/27 — Toronto, ON @ Lee’s Palace
01/28 — Montreal, QC @ Fairmount Theatre
01/30 — Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer
01/31 — Boston, MA @ Paradise
02/01 — New York, NY @ Webster Hall
02/03 — Baltimore, MD @ Ottobar
02/04 — Columbus, OH @ A&R Music Bar
02/06 — Grand Rapids, MI @ Calvin College
02/07 — Detroit, MI @ El Club
02/09 — Madison, WI @ High Noon Saloon
02/10 — Chicago, IL @ Thalia Hall
02/11 — Minneapolis, MN @ Fine Line
02/12 — Milwaukee, WI @ Turner Hall
02/15 — Portland, OR @ Doug Fir
02/16 — Vancouver, BC @ Biltmore Cabaret
02/17 — Seattle, WA @ Barboza
02/18 — Seattle, WA @ Barboza
02/20 — San Francisco, CA @ The Independent
02/22 — Los Angeles, CA -@Teragram Ballroom
03/01 — Copenhagen @ Loppen
03/02 — Malmo, SE @ Babel
03/03 — Stockholm, SE @ Debaser Strand
03/05 — Oslo, NO @ Parkteatret
03/06 — Hamburg, DE @ Knust
03/07 — Berlin, DE @ Bi Nuu
03/08 — Munich, DE @ Kranhalle
03/09 — Cologne, DE @ Luxor
03/11 — Amsterdam, NL @ Paradiso
03/12 — Brussels, BE @ Botanique
03/14 — Paris, FR @ Petit Bain
03/16 — Bristol, UK @ Thekla
03/17 — Glasgow, UK @ Stereo
03/18 — Manchester, UK @ Deaf Institute
03/19 — Leeds, UK @ Brudenell Social Club
03/21 — London, UK @ Koko
03/22 — Birmingham, UK @ The Hare & Hounds
03/23 — Brighton, UK @ The Haunt
05/12-14 — Atlanta, GA @ Shaky Knees Festival
07/30 — New York, NY @ Panorama Festival