Cloud Nothings - "I'm Not Part of Me"
Taken from Here and Nowhere Else, out April 1 via Carpark Records
It's a fairly common trajectory for indie rock bands of the "fast and loud" variety: start off playing your personal interpretation of punk rock, fine-tune your pop sensibilities, slow down the tempo and learn to write hooks, and then boom! You've "sold out" and the indie community has moved on to the next hungry young band until it comes time to release tenth-anniversary remastered versions of your first two records.
Dylan Baldi and Cloud Nothings have kind of turned this pattern on its head, however. The first two Cloud Nothings records were sunny yet scuzzy power pop recorded by Baldi in his dorm room, but 2012's Attack on Memory saw him jettison this style, bringing his touring band into the studio with mythological producer Steve Albini (Nirvana, Pixies, Superchunk, The Jesus Lizard) to do something totally different. Attack on Memory is very much a two-faced record: it splits time between churning homages to 90s post-hardcore like in first single "No Future/No Past" and propulsive and anthemic pop-punk, such as second single "Stay Useless", both released in the two months leading up to the album's release.
Cloud Nothings utterly confused us with their choice of pre-album singles last album cycle, but this time around the opposite is the case: "I'm Not Part of Me" is the closing track on Here and Nowhere Else, contains the record's titular line, and feels like an incredibly poignant summation of Baldi's music up to this point. He's always had big-time chops as a pop songwriter, and while those instincts didn't exactly take a backseat for Attack on Memory, "I'm Not Part of Me" incorporates his knack for hooks into an up-tempo punkish sound in a way we've rarely heard before. It's a more mature and polished version of what he accomplished with songs like "Stay Useless" or "Cut You," and the song's circular structure lends itself to the kind of widescreen sentiments you'd expect from a closing track. Furthermore, Baldi's vocals are more refined without losing the emotive quality that's made them so appealing in the past. When he sings "I'm not, I'm not you / You're a part of me" at the song's apex, he's not wailing but he doesn't have to in order to deliver the punch.
Maintaining the bottom-heavy sound of Attack on Memory even away from Albini's famous room, the iteration of Cloud Nothings presented in this song is absolutely a positive progression from the catchy-but-INTENSE style of that record. Various "what ifs" from indie rock lore keep popping into my head when trying to describe how great this sound is: what if The Wrens had stayed signed to Drive-Thru Records after Secaucus instead of fermenting and brooding for six years and producing The Meadowlands? What if Lou Barlow and his thunderous bass didn't leave Dinosaur Jr. before Green Mind, an album that applied the pop sensibilities of Bug to the fuzzed-out proto-grunge of their early work? What if Superchunk blew up in the early and mid-nineties and filled the gap in the newly minted alt-rock mainstream between Nirvana knock-offs and the pop-punk wave that blew through in 1994?
There's a good chance Here and Nowhere Else will venture into musical territory that neither you nor I are expecting, but two months before the album's release we should be able to agree that "I'm Not Part of You" represents an exciting maturation that's probably indicative of a band making the step up many fans thought they had in them. And hell, Dylan Baldi's only 22--who knows where Cloud Nothings will go from here.