Maybe it’s our laziness, or maybe there is something there, but Cloud Nothings’ peers are generally considered so because of their sonic connection to punk, and to grunge, to keeping things “loose” rather than “tight,” to slack, to beer and weed, to voice-cracking screams, to shaggy hair, to being young. That may seem like a lot, but for anyone who remembers grunge or punk or weed or youth, there used to be a time where playing loud and fast with guitars wasn’t all that weird.
So, despite the enthusiasm in which the music is presented, or the fact that Wavves and Cloud Nothings are talking collaboration, Here and Nowhere Else is a different breed than Celebration Rock or most of Wavves’ output. Dylan Baldi’s songs may sound like instigators, getting people riled up for some masculine bro-down and canned beer chugging, but the words are often desperate and haunted, dealing with mental illness, instability, heartbreak, and the human condition in a very honest and direct manner, without feeling bogged down in self-pity. Hell, on words alone, Cloud Nothings has more in common with Tegan and Sara than Japandroids.
And this is a good thing. We don’t need more of the same thing, and Japandroids have the youthful nostalgic trip on lockdown. Baldi can’t be nostalgic for his younger days; he’s still living them. At 22, Baldi’s words aren’t tinted with irony, experience, or self-understanding. They are in the moment, full of emotional complexities that sometimes are more noticeable by the ferocity of his yelps, and less with his poetry.
Opening with “Now Hear In”, Baldi sets up the album by calling everything into question. “I go outside and see all these things that should be real,” he begins, going on to describe what could be a romance or another aspect of his own self, a person whom the song casts significant doubt on the very existence of, or whether the speaker is capable of basic human qualities like empathy. Musically, the song supports the confusion and worry that are present. The tempo always wants to rush away too fast, but the band stands firm at a more reasonably paced melody, not letting the percussion make them rush. This struggle makes the song seem close to falling apart, but it withstands the tension and introduces seven more strong entries into Baldi’s still green career.
It’s easy to get lost in the urgency of Cloud Nothings on this album and not really consider what is being talked about. “Psychic Trauma” features a chorus constructed by Baldi’s fractured bark, which will have many recalling Kurt Cobain in a comparison that proves more apt than we’d like to admit. But no one’s going to call this mere idol-aping, as Billie Joe Armstrong steps into Cobain’s place as key influence on album closer “I’m Not Part of Me”. Elsewhere, “No Thoughts” concludes with a rise in intensity octave to heights Cobain would have been hard-pressed to match. Moments like the outro to “Psychic Trauma” or the bridge of “Just See Fear” seem to unfold unrealistically, capturing studio moments in ways that you always hope to hear but rarely ever do, putting you practically in the room with the band. Cloud Nothings have tried to capture this in their live show, which features as much instrumental jamming as it does actual structured songs, and can slog through it due to the lack in technical ability generally present in the band. Twenty minutes of pedal-to-the-floor, tension-igniting rock ‘n’ roll can just be too much in most hands, but Here and Nowhere Else condenses these moments into more reasonable servings that are successful across the board, allowing the one extended moment, “ Pattern Walks”, to still surprise in its extension and not to feel contrived or predictable.
As “Pattern Walks” concludes, something new creeps into the song: beauty. For the last couple of records, Baldi hasn’t seemed concerned with sounding pretty, but if you go back, it’s not something he is incapable of (see “Forget You All The Time”), just something that hasn’t fit into his aesthetic choices. But the song seems like it is disassembling at its core when it’s actually just coming together. What sounds like white noise at first turns out to be the slightest ambient choral backing, with destruction and creation placed as equals. And when heard in light of the following, album-closing song, it is an ending of sorts. After all, “I’m Not Part of Me” opens with the line “It starts right now, there’s a way I was before,” then adding, “I’m learning how to be here and nowhere else, I focus on what I can do myself.” His repeated confession to the listener that “I’m not telling you all I’m going through” is the heart of the album, and the last song serves as reasoning for all that came before. It’s easy to read this as a breakup song on a breakup album, but some of the issues stretch to anything that makes people literally or figuratively crazy. Regardless, this closer is Baldi moving on or trying to move on, aware that his issues are mental and that he needs to try and control them.
References throughout to loud voices, seeing things, and even that “Pattern Walks” sounds suspiciously like “Padded Walls” only build the question as to whether romance is an easy explanation for something more serious, with the speaker admitting, “He’s not telling us all he’s going through.” Either way, Here and Nowhere Else may sound like a celebration of being alive based on the title, or the volume, or the speed, but it is ultimately an album about survival, making it through the day in front of you, and living with an inherent disconnection from all others. But I’m sure you can drink beer to that, too.
Essential Tracks: “Pattern Walks”, “No Thoughts”, and “I’m Not Part of Me”