It would have been so easy for Dylan Baldi’s next Cloud Nothings album to follow the tried-and-true trajectory that he had been steadily carving out since 2010’s self-released Turning On — and it would have been welcome. 2010’s pop indebted Turning On was a heavily work-shopped collection of slightly-off kilter alt-punk in the vein of ’90s high school favorites The Get-Up Kids and The Promise Ring. It was familiar enough territory for many, but possessed enough conviction to feel far more than a haphazard tribute.
The stage was all set for another pleasant record of inoffensive fuzz-pop, and then Cloud Nothings promptly burnt down the stage and introduced all new set pieces, being led by legendary bespectacled DIY producer Steve Albini perhaps best known for his work on Nirvana’s In Utero and The Pixies Surfer Rosa.
And while the band might discredit the direct influence Albini had upon the recording of Attack On Memory, his fingerprints are all over the new sound. From the bass-heavy sludge of the almost nine-minute “Wasted Days” t0 the tape-crackling raw howl of Baldi’s vocals throughout the album, Attack On Memory is an in-your-face reminder of what exactly it once meant to be a self-possessed, independent band long before the introduction of the catch-all tag “indie” was introduced.
The immediacy of the time-and-place philosophy that seeps throughout Attack On Memory is thrown down on the lead-single “No Future/No Past.” A queasy and deeply pessimistic scroll of resentful passion, the track is hopelessly defeated, and the uncomfortably closely mic’d vocals drive Baldi’s negativity deep into the mind of the listener. “Give up/ Come to know/ We’re through/ No future/ No Past” — it’s a deeply sadistic reminder of a deep, seemingly never-ending depression that people spend their whole lives avoiding.
While “No Future/No Past” is deep-rooted in existential hopelessness in the form of a slow churn, elsewhere on Attack On Memory hopelessness takes the form of sheer aggression and absolute necessity. Extended introductions that break away from a steady chainsaw groove, into an absolute fury of distortion and resentment that end almost as soon as they start, make up the bulk of the blistering 30-minutes of Attack On Memory. It’s a taxingly energetic album in its eight tracks that takes cues from throughout the Albini inspired-cannon; from the Hüsker Dü Zen Arcade wall-of-fuzz in “Separation” to the angst-ridden In Utero howl of “Wasted Days,” it’s clear that independent music history played an immensely large role in Attack On Memory.
While Attack On Memory was an immense sonic overhaul for Cloud Nothings, it still contains enough conviction and passion that was present in earlier work to feel more than just a raw side-step for the band. Whether this is a permanent mode remains to be seen, but for now Attack On Memory is a powerful reminder of what it means to be independent and self-possessed. It’s just a shame that we needed to be reminded.