For the last few years, 20-year-old Cleveland native Dylan Baldi has been recording a steady torrent of endearing lo-fi pop contagions. Released under the name Cloud Nothings, Baldi’s songs are so simply constructed, so innately hooky, they almost sound easy: His 2010 compilation Turning On was a happy murk of lint-covered guitars, three-floors-below drums, and vocals so crackly, they could have been sampled off a ham-radio. Last year’s self-titled follow-up was crisper and snappier, bounding along with the sort of energy of school kids finally released into the wilds of summertime.
Baldi could easily have replicated that joyful noise sound for a few more albums, and no one would really have objected. Thankfully, though, he got bored. And bold. And kinda angry. Attack on Memory contains a lot of recognizable Cloud Nothings DNA – speedy riffs, forebrain-hugging melodies – but it grafts them onto a monstrous-sounding framework, courtesy of engineer Steve Albini. On Memory, Baldi’s ostensibly straightforward power-pop numbers are stretched out and bulked up so efficiently, it feels like he somehow jumped three records ahead in less than year.
In fact, Memory veers so forcefully from its predecessors that, at first listen, it’s a bit jarring: The opening track, “No Future No Past,” is a slow-burn grind of spangled, in-utero guitars and tortured vocals, with Baldi intoning the words “give up/ come to/ no hope/ we’re through” so harshly, it sounds as though his larynx is going to flip him off and jump out of his throat. Even more adventurous is “Wasted Days,” a nine-minute(!) peal with a lithe, lupine guitar break that sounds like Greg Sage conducting Hawkwind.
Baldi hasn’t given up on the quick-fix pop song, as evidenced by short, piercing numbers like “Fall In” and “Our Plan.” But even those tracks feel mega, emboldened by Jayson Gerycz’s battering-ram drums and Baldi’s squeezed-dry vocals (by the time the album finishes, you’re surprised he’s able to get a word out at all). Those who’ve followed Cloud Nothings thus far will be happily walloped by Memory, yet even newcomers will find it a blast, in every sense of the word.