Few bands know how to balance melody and aggression like Cloud Nothings do. That’s immediately apparent on their latest effort Life Without Sound. Their previous outing, 2014’s Here and Nowhere Else, made it clear they had an uncanny ability to power-pop accessibility with noise rock grit, resulting in an incredibly diverse and impressive record, but it’s only now that they’ve truly proven themselves masters of the style. If Here showed that the band could blend styles better than most, Life demonstrates that they’re still finding ways to stretch their sound to extremes without ever missing a beat.
This is noticeable from the record’s first seconds, as a shimmering piano draws you in. Immediately, “Up to the Surface” reveals a side of Cloud Nothings nowhere to be found either on Here and Nowhere Else or their breakout Attack on Memory. The piano is a hint, but when the full band kicks in is when it’s really clear. The fuzz has cleared and we’re greeted with one of the band’s softest, most pristinely pop-forward tracks yet.
As far as accessibility goes, it’s only rivaled by single “Modern Act.” Dylan Baldi gives one of the best vocal performances of his career on the song, not to mention some of his best melody writing. “I am alive but all alone” is a cliche in a lesser writer’s hands, but it’s a scream-at-the-top-of-your-lungs mission statement coming from Baldi. Most of the album falls in line with these two tracks, showcasing the band’s talent for writing power-pop. Some fans might miss the wall of sound chaos of the last two albums – in particular, there’s never a moment like the end of “Psychic Trauma,” when the band takes advantage of perhaps the most impressive drummer in the genre right now – but it’s a worthy trade-off when the band delivers so strongly on this front.
And anyway, it’s like the band’s entirely ditched the sound that brought them to our attention. The angsty “Darkened Rings” finds the band blending their noisier tendencies with the more pop-centric sound of much of the rest of the album. It ends up being so catchy a song you forget that, for most of it, Baldi’s screaming his throat raw. He more or less death growls in the heavy “Strange Year,” which calls back to the unhinged abrasion of Attack on Memory.
A lot of the album, though, ends up somewhere in between the two extremes, while leaning mostly towards the less aggressive. It’s songs like “Darkened Rings,” which mixes the two so perfectly, that show why they’re one of the best bands in indie rock. Whether or not Life Without Sound will eclipse Here and Nowhere Else for the title of their best release I’m not sure yet, but I know Cloud Nothings deserve to take over the world. The least you could do is play your part and sing along.