Cloud Nothings The Shadow I Remember
For a band that resists repeating itself, picking up lessons from a decade prior is the strange route Cloud Nothings took to create their most fully-realized album. Their new record, The Shadow I Remember, marks eleven years of touring, a return to early songwriting practices, and revisiting the studio where they first recorded together. In a way not previously captured, this album expertly combines the group’s pummeling, aggressive approach with singer-songwriter Dylan Baldi’s extraordinary talent for perfect pop. To document this newly realized maturity, the group returned to producer Steve Albini and his Electrical Audio studios in Chicago, where the band famously destroyed its initial reputation as a bedroom solo project with the release of 2012 album Attack on Memory.
Another throwback was Baldi’s return to constant songwriting à la the early solo days, which led to the nearly 30 demos that became the 11 songs on The Shadow I Remember. Instead of sticking to a tried-but-true formula, his songwriting stretched out while digging deeper into his melodic talents. “I felt like I was locked in a character,” Baldi says of becoming a reliable supplier of heavy, hook-filled rock songs. “I felt like I was playing a role and not myself. I really didn’t like that role.” More frequent writing led to the freedom in form heard on The Shadow I Remember. What he can’t do alone is get loud and play noisily, which is exactly what happened when the entire band— bassist TJ Duke, guitarist Chris Brown, and drummer Jayson Gerycz—convened.
The band had more fun in the studio than they’ve had in years, playing in their signature, pulverizing way, while also trying new things. The absurdly catchy “Nothing Without You” includes a first for the band: Macie Stewart of Ohmme contributes guest vocals. Elsewhere, celebrated electronic composer Brett Naucke adds subtle synthesizer parts.
The songs are kept trim, mostly around the three-minute mark, while being gleefully overstuffed. Almost every musical part turns into at least two parts, with guitar and drums opening up and the bass switching gears. “That’s the goal—I want the three-minute song to be an epic,” Baldi says. “That’s the short version of the long-ass jam.”
Lyrically, Baldi delivers an aching exploration of tortured existence, punishing self-doubt, and the familiar pangs of oppressive mystery. “Am I Something” Baldi screams on the song of the same name. “Does anybody living out there really need me?” It’s a heartbreaking admission of existential confusion, delivered hoarsely, with an instantly relatable melody.
“Is this the end/ of the life I’ve known?” he asks on lead single and album opener “Oslo.” “Am I older now/ or am I just another age?” Despite the questioning lyrics, the band plays with more assurance and joy than ever before. The Shadow I Remember announces Cloud Nothings’ second decade and it sounds like a new beginning.
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?”
LP (Spectral Light Whirl Vinyl): 677517014914
The Shadow I Remember:
- North American publicity by Orienteer
- Recorded with Steve Albini at Electrical Audio
- College/Non-Commercial, AAA, Commercial Specialty radio by Terrorbird
- Digital playlisting & positioning by Terrorbird
- Digital Marketing by Your Army
- “Am I Something” and “Nothing Without You” music videos in the works
- Pressed on Spectral Light Whirl vinyl, includes free digital download
- Nothing Without You
- The Spirit Of
- Only Light
- Open Rain
- Sound Of Alarm
- Am I Something
- It’s Love
- A Longer Moon
- The Room It Was