Attack on Memory: a Sugar Punk Masterpiece

Cloud Nothing’s Attack on Memory is an album that sets the standard for indie music in 2012. It is a triumph. If you read nothing else in this article, know that at 33 minutes long, this album is well worth your time. Here is the Soundcloud preview link to the full album (which may end soon; comment and I will search for it on Spotify.)

The first thing one notices when they start the record is the drastic change from last year’s decent LP Cloud Nothings. It would be wrong to call that whimsical—airy would be closer to the mark. Listening to the album, it is clear that the band is not only musically different, moving from Weezer’s Green album to Radiohead’s The Bends, but Cloud Nothings have evolved as well, sounding almost like early emo band Cap’n Jazz. One of the reasons for the musical changes is of course the fact that Cloud Nothings are an actual, full band now; Dylan Baldi remains the core, but it is no longer just him recording in his Ohio Basement. Additionally, this session they were joined by recording mega-producer Steve Albini, who undoubtedly put the edge onto the music.

Besides the raw edge to the music—a response to the otherwise hazy-vibes of the indie sphere—what one immediately notices about Attack on Memory is its immediacy. The first track is appropriately named “No Future/No Past,” for it, like the album, is rooted in the present, with a sense of urgent vitality attached to it. It has a rather raw feeling to it with soft polish, removing the gritty feeling of earlier Cloud Nothing recordings. It is, all said, less friendly despite still being catchy. In a way, too, it is a 90s throwback, following the lines of Yuck’s unabashed nostalgia. Attack on Memory could be described as very much in the musical vein of In Utero, which within today’s indie landscape is altogether refreshing.

Yet lyrically, the clear connections are denied. Cloud Nothings have here created a unique piece of music—“No nostalgia and no sentiment/we’re over it now and were over it then,” Baldi howls on the sixth track “No Sentiment.” He manages to capture a sort of bouncy grunge sound with this jagged wailing. Those vocals, that howling, is probably their best claim to an otherwise dubious originality.  And in fact it is quite enough to do so—the vocals are as authentic as can be; the untampered with rumblings and growlings of Dylan Baldi have both sonic authenticity and musical integrity.

The thematics to the album add a whole other level to the listening experience. As the title well captures, it is an LP very much focused on memory, on one’s relation to the past and the future. Matching the cohesive sound is this cohesive theme, making it nearly a concept album, though the lyrical content is too sparse for this label to really apply.  The idea, however, certainly does apply, for this is a reinvention of the band—a paradoxical rebirth in that it incorporates so much of the spirit of 90s, be it emo, grunge, or pop punk.

Yet Attack on Memory is confident with its own uniqueness, and that self-confidence is further captured in the musings on the future. Though it is depicted as bleak, the lyrics are dauntless: when Dylan screams, “no easy way out,” his voice is as unwavering as the steady drum beat. The title shows the album quite literally aims to attack our memory of Cloud Nothings, to create something new. The artwork is of a misty and far-off island; the only thing that has clarity is the title and artist. It is saying, ‘Forget everything else. We are Cloud Nothings and this is Attack on Memory and that’s all there is to it.’

This mood is best captured in the newly released music video for “No Future/No Past”

Cloud Nothings – “No Future / No Past” Official Video from Urban Outfitters on Vimeo.

The video, as you can see, features an older man dragged helplessly over varying terrains, endlessly, for almost the entire length of the video. At first his face is one of surprise, with a little fright and disgust. While the song progesses, it becomes clear that he is not being dragged by anyone or any evident thing; rather, he hangs suspended while he is slowly pulled. Meanwhile, his unease increases and progresses to what looks like terror. His travels end when he reaches the top of a tree, inexplicably floating over it after an abrupt end to the constant drumming.

This somewhat cryptic video is undoubtedly a synecdoche for the entire thematic content of Attack on Memory. It is about, essentially, the Cloud Nothings struggling with the inevitable pulls of time. The frightened main character is symbolic of this rapid passing of time—his initial confusion at being pulled best resembles that of an elderly man having walked into an Apple store. He is looks to be facing a frightening innovation or development. Slowly, while he realizes that the pulling won’t stop he grasps at his surrounding, be it grass or twigs or weeds—whatever he passes. This is his grasping at experiences while time passes around him.

Baldi and Cloud Nothings in Attack on Memory find themselves in a similar position. The man’s situation is emblematic of the album’s stance in regards to the future and the past—a lament on how we are constantly pulled away from our comfortable surroundings, on how we grasp at those things around us with intensity, that we might truly live. That is what this album is about thematically and emotionally. It is also why, instead of having a the heavily produced, cough syrupy sound of their indie scene-mates, Cloud Nothings keep their music sincere.

Creating these emotional ties was a complicated feat in terms of philosophy and maturity for the 20-year-old Baldi, and it is what makes this album great. Certainly this could be a spot of disagreement between myself and the reader, but the music itself is fantastic. Just take track 4, “Stay Useless”

It is a simple, catchy tune with a barbed “Is This It” guitaring, constantly banging drums, and not to mention a youthful desire to avoid the responsibilities of aging. The lyrics offer this bluntly: one needs “time to stay useless.” After the two minute mark, there is a raw guitar breakdown, and soon the short song is wrapped up.

Overall, it might be the high point of the 8 song album. It does not sound entirely original, but it’s a large change from the official debut last year. It has a punk edge and is emotionally engaging in context, but it also captures the softness of the entire album’s sound. Songs like this make Attack on Memory a sugar punk masterpiece.

Update: SoundCloud link expired, you can find the album on Spotify

Image Source: Carpark Records, Carpark Soundcloud
Resources: Pitchfork, Prefix, Slant

  • Kris Ward [The Airspace]

    Soundcloud link has expired

  • MatthewWiseman

    Fantastic review! I really enjoyed reading it, and I agree with nearly every point. This record really takes me back to the time when I was really discovering music that meant, and still means, so much to me. (Jade Tree mail orders and what not.) What a way to start the year!

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