Cloud Nothings Last Building Burning
“I wrote this because I feel like there aren’t too many rock bands doing this right now,” says frontman Dylan Baldi. “A lot of the popular bands with guitars are light. They sound good, but it’s missing the heaviness I like.”
Right now, indie rock is centered around controlled solos instead of unpredictability, tight chords instead of jagged riffs, clean tones instead of rough edges. That much is evident by the comparisons thrown at Cloud Nothings, all touchstones from the past: the Wipers, Drive Like Jehu, Sunny Day Real Estate, Nirvana. The Cleveland four-piece want to keep doing this, to be a band that continues the evolution of barbed, rapid-fire, energetic rock without ever trying to replicate those artists, if it means this current era can have benchmark artists of their own. With Last Building Burning, their fifth full-length studio album, Cloud Nothings become the torchbearers they want to see in the world.
Last Building Burning is the product of eight days with producer Randall Dunn (Sunn O))), Wolves in the Throne Room, Boris) in Texas studio Sonic Ranch. Clocking in just over half an hour, the eight-song album sees Cloud Nothings capture their onstage appeal with help from Dunn, who Baldi describes as “technically minded without relying on technology to perfect the live sound.”
“I’m obsessed with the idea of energy at the moment,” says Baldi. “That’s how I thought of this record: seven short, and one long, bursts of intense, controlled chaos. I wanted to make that come across in a way that can actually be felt. There are certain albums I’ve heard where you can feel the energy of the record, even if it’s not particularly crazy-ass music, because there are sounds you can latch on to. It makes me energized. I like that music can do that, and I wanted to figure out how our songs could be arranged to make that happen.”
After touring behind last year’s Life Without Sound, the first pop-leaning record Cloud Nothings recorded as a unit, drummer Jayson Gerycz, bassist TJ Duke, guitarist Chris Brown, and Baldi found themselves feeling stilted by an elongated recording process and hyper-polished sound. So the band used the songwriting process of albums like 2012’s Attack on Memory and 2014’s Here and Nowhere Else, which emphasizes dynamics, energy levels, and tempo. “We spent a lot of time talking with one another to nail that down,” says Baldi, “whether it’s getting quiet for two bars or filling the next bar with constant noise.” Given the fact that Baldi, Gerycz, and Brown live in a house together, with Duke mere minutes down the street, that near-flawless cohesion comes from jamming free of the restrictive structure of rented studio time. The fact that they can (and do) practice whenever they want to explains how Last Building Burning captures their insatiable hunger for live energy.
Last Building Burning plays like the meeting point of Cloud Nothings’ catalog. “On An Edge” continues the band’s tradition of bold opening tracks. A psychotic onslaught of guitars of drum fills, the song explodes when you least expect, earning the title of “the craziest song we’ve ever done” from Baldi. During “In Shame,” Brown splices guitar pans like a jouster who swapped their lance for a sword. Gerycz became a perfectionist for the subtly difficult drumming in “The Echo Of The World.” On slow burner “So Right So Clean,” Baldi adopts a stentorian way of singing. Even the feedback-filled drone of 10-minute number “Dissolution” maintains their trademark focus.
In that, Last Building Burning is a return to Cloud Nothing’s sharpest form — the unhinged, feverish, guitar-heavy sound that they explode with onstage — without their early angst. “It’s not an angry record,” says Baldi. “It’s a very joyous thing for me. And it feels so nice to scream again, especially when you know people in the crowd will be screaming along back at you.”
When singer-songwriter Dylan Baldi began recording hyper-catchy and often deliriously distorted guitar-pop songs on a computer in his parents’ Cleveland basement, he was doing it alone—juggling every instrument and singing undefinable lyrics that used obtuse abstractions as much as they did teenage diary. The young, once-tuxedoed concert saxophonist started releasing a flurry of lo-fi earworms across 7” singles, cassette splits, benefit compilations, and one album, Turning On. Released by Carpark in 2010, the album will be reissued on vinyl in 2020 for its 10-year anniversary.
With the 2000s coming to a close, blog circuit hype was enough to book the then-18-year-old as the opener at a Brooklyn show with members of the next class of Internet-acclaimed “indie rock” bands. Baldi quickly formed a group with friends from the Cleveland music scene and drove to New York. Amidst a year of touring, Baldi recorded a self-titled album alone, this time in a studio, with a producer, and the backing of Carpark Records.
But forming that initial live band proved to be the key component to the project’s success. Together, as a unit, they shattered blog expectations with the 2012 release of Attack on Memory: an angry, often-in-the-red album composed of vocal-shredding jams about malaise, as well as tightly-wound pop songs about violence and confusion. What followed were brutal albums of hook-filled harshness (2014’s Here and Nowhere Else and 2018’s Last Building Burning) and stunning melodic clarity (2017’s Life Without Sound and 2020’s The Black Hole Understands), each distinctly different.
Cloud Nothings has brought their cathartic live show to stages around the globe, including festivals like Coachella, Primavera Sound, Bonnaroo, and Pitchfork. Home audiences have seen them on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Last Call with Carson Daly, A.V. Club’s Undercover series (notoriously reimagining Coldplay’s “Clocks”), multiple KEXP sessions, and much more.
Before recording new album The Shadow I Remember, Baldi began writing one song a day, much like he did when he first started the project. Only a few months into 2020, Baldi had amassed a significant new library of songs. Ten of those songs became the surprise album The Black Hole Understands, which Baldi and drummer Jayson Gerycz collaborated on via e-mail while quarantining separately.
The band is currently comprised of Baldi on guitar, vocals, and songwriting duties; bassist TJ Duke; guitarist Chris Brown; and drummer Gerycz. Each is an accomplished musician with a slew of other musical endeavors to their name. Some of these projects exist in the same guitar-pop realm as their main band, while other projects veer into avant, grotesque, and otherworldly zones fit for only the most fried and open ears. Through consistent touring and a steadfast dedication to growing as friends and collaborators, the four-piece has perfected a heavy, aural-assault style and merged it with Baldi’s ridiculous pop genius. This amalgamation is beautifully evident on The Shadow I Remember.
For their fifth studio full-length as a band (and ninth album under the project name), they reconvened with legendary producer and engineer Steve Albini, who helmed the sessions for the breakthrough Attack on Memory. “He has a gift,” Baldi says. “He naturally makes it sound right. Albini’s work is a presentation of the band as they are. No affectation.” On The Shadow I Remember, the producer captures the band at its strongest. Though the lyrics concern the debilitating despair of everyday life, the band can be heard joyously playing unabashed, volume-driven, ear-drum-crushers that masterfully highlight Baldi’s astonishing songcraft.
Looking back on more than a decade of music-making as Cloud Nothings, the group has plenty of reasons to be proud. Though no one expects the beings who gave us the song “No Future / No Past” to pause for nostalgia or pride. “So many bands can fizzle out and fade into sameness, but it’s never been like that for them,” Brown, who joined in 2016, says of his bandmates. With The Shadow I Remember seeing the band mature and cohere like never before, it feels as if the group is only just getting started. “We’ve been mad at each other. We’ve had life-changing times together. We’ve been through so much,” Gerycz says. “At the end of the day, we’re still very close friends and we care a lot about each other. How could it ever end?”
LAST BUILDING BURNING
• North American publicity by Orienteer
• Digital Marketing by Terrorbird
• Limited clear-colored vinyl
• All LPs come in a mirror foil single sleeve jacket
• Produced by Randall Dunn (Sunn O))), Marissa Nadler, Boris, Akron/Family) at Sonic Ranch in El Paso
• “The Echo of the World,” “Leave Him Now,” and “So Right So Clean” music videos in the works
• North American fall tour dates
• Vinyl includes free digital download
Limited LP: 677517013047
Regular LP: 677517013016
1. On An Edge
2. Leave Him Now
3. In Shame
4. Offer An End
5. The Echo Of The World
7. So Right So Clean
8. Another Way Of Life