Cloud Nothings began to attract more attention with their albums in 2012 and 2014 showing a band that had boldly found a sound which works for them. Noisy, angsty, formidable indie rock with growling guitars and an abundance of clever ideas, daring enough to have the second track on their album Attack On Memory be a nine minute long odyssey, culminating in despairing screams of, “I thought I would be more than this!” Life Without Sound, however, provides a less-outstanding album, which sees Cloud Nothings unfortunately retiring away from the wildly dynamic sound they’ve previously produced.
A more listenable and consciously less anguished tone looks to have been attempted here, but it flows in a way which is oddly less listenable than the previous two albums. However wild Cloud Nothings have sounded, they’ve always maintained a perceptive skill in controlling the direction they want to take their music into; every time the listener wants a song to speed up or slow down, the band would dutifully oblige. Plus, on the frequent occasions when a song does do something unexpected, any initial uneasiness the listener has is buried within three seconds anyway, with Cloud Nothings speeding down their new guitar-driven path in a way which near-immediately ends up sounding perfect. Using a metaphor in which most albums are car journeys, Cloud Nothings’ previous two (non-collaborative) album releases have been like F1 cars setting laps for pole position; powerful and fast, yet always masterfully steered through their course.
Strong as this album is, neither the previous intensity nor masterful piloting are particularly present this time round. They are there to some extent – do not be mistaken in that – and a bad song for Cloud Nothings is still hardly a bad song overall, but the step down in intensity absolutely correlates with a step down in quality. Relentless guitar-driven howling tracks have been moved aside in favour of songs which carry more emphasis on sane vocals. Where the guitars could plunge the listener seamlessly into exquisite chaos, the guitar seems to instead swerve into a 20 second rendition of Coldplay’s Viva La Vida, which adds nothing to the emotional or musical content of the song, and which cannot be unheard.
The albums first 12 minutes are especially weak, but thankfully these are the worst parts. Here especially, Cloud Nothings demonstrate a drift away from an angst-ridden frenzy to a calmer, less weighty more pop-punkish sound. Where previously Dylan Baldi could be found screaming, “I’m not, I’m not you / you’re a part of me” into a fiery void, in this album he has found some calmer level-headedness, instead repeating lines like, “I want a life that’s all I need lately / I am alive but all alone” in a way which is altogether a lot less manic. To an extent this works well, allowing the album to touch on a mood which is at once specific and relatable; a state of mind which is both broken and unhappy, yet conscious, introspective, and moving on to better things. This emotional setting is carried throughout Life Without Sound and is especially prominent with Enter Entirely, possibly the best track from the album. The guitar, still good throughout the LP, complements Baldi’s vocals and clever lyrics in this song (which seem to reference the final song from the previous album) to produce a high point around the halfway mark.
Cloud Nothings have been through a storm and are now calmer – not that it’s particularly peaceful music, but the band’s edge has largely been filed away. A duller start is made up by the momentum which gets going with the great track Darkened Rings, beyond which point the album fares better. Life Without Sound is a good album, and one which grows on repeat listens (I might end up finding my review quite harsh in a months’ time) but on the whole it’s a very noticeable step down from their previous glory and feels too afraid of unleashing the turbulent hell which has worked so well for them in the past.