“Surfing music is dead. It was just a summer craze for kids on the beach. I’m finished with it.” – Brian Wilson… in 1976
We've gotten to a point where it's time to get off the fucking beach. Escapism became a defining theme of hyped and hip music released in the last few years– some people, during times of crisis, just wanted to dance and croon about love or the good old days over a wall of distorted electronic pop dreams. Nostalgia was elevated to the primary mode of discourse, whether talking about something as specific as instrumentation or as broad as artistic motive. But once the lights came on and the dancing stopped, even the thick haze of reverb wasn't enough to cover up the feeling that nothing happened after we surfed through those endless summer polaroids and repetitive Soundcloud posts. We survived the Great Chilled Wave of '09 and all we got was this lousy t-shirt, so to speak…
However, after a listen to their latest full-length Attack on Memory, it becomes abundantly clear that The Cloud Nothings refuse to walk away from this mess empty-handed. Rather than run, the solution is confrontation. The bare-bones guitar tones, crushing drums, and slogan-ready lyrics let you know this is both a cry for help and a call to arms; Dylan Baldi, once easily mistaken as another lo-fi pop prophet, yelps with unabashed primal fury, hungry to fight his way out of the corner they've been backed into armed with the best emo record made in years.
Seriously, it's been a long time since I've listened to Rites of Spring and I don't even remember what it's like to be moved by this kind of music. The immediacy of execution in these probable first-takes — no doubt amplified by sequestering themselves with Steve Albini for a scant few days of his minimal “mic, then press record” method — is matched by a purposeful vulnerability that lays these raw emotions bare at an immaculately mature pace. In album highlight “Wasted Days,” after the gradual catharsis of it's instrumental mid-section jam, Baldi erupts the chorus vocal “I thought / I would / be more/ than this,” with harsher desperation than ever before and you believe it as the demanding roar it is. This isn't petty frustration or needless whining; this is a man at the end of his rope and sick of not getting any slack, totally and genuinely surprised that it could have even gotten this bad.
That adult resolve is the truly remarkable quality of this record. The Cloud Nothings are totally composed in playing this part from the heart, defying their age, past history, expectations, and fashionable sounds of their era in the process. “No Sentiment” purports the album's main thesis with a startling and cold poker face: “No nostalgia / no sentiment / we're over it now / we were over it then.” The pain of misunderstanding is all-consuming and stifling, yet easily vanquished in a mere 30-some minutes with simple tools and no frills (bare-handed combat against Goliath and the little guy's got a stare made of steel). It makes it easier to root against the odds when you know the fight is worth fighting.