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“I might get mad and attack this mic, I get into it, I get emotional.” Dylan Baldi, better known as the mind behind Cloud Nothings, gave fair warning to us here at WERS before performing acoustic songs from his new record Here and Nowhere Else for Live Music Week. Despite saying it sarcastically and playfully, there was some honesty to the above statement. Cloud Nothings play noisy indie rock that draws heavily from the post-hardcore and emo world. They weren’t always this way, however, their first two albums nearly solidified them as being one of the seemingly infinite number of lo-fi bedroom indie-pop acts.
However, something real messed up must have happened to Baldi in 2011, because his follow up Attack on Memory, sounded like it was from a whole different band. Dark, raw, and emotional, Baldi’s redefinition of the project brought him attention he never had before. The new record, Here and Nowhere Else has generally the same tone, following a more natural stylistic progression. “The redefinition on Attack on Memory is what I wanted the band to sound like,” said Baldi. “We finally did it. I didn’t want to do any more drastic changing because I liked where we were going with the record.”
The first song that Baldi played in his stripped down, acoustic set was “I’m Not Part of Me,” the closing track from Here and Nowhere Else. In this acoustic version, it was like the song traded its Converses and ripped jeans for Clarks and Khakis, revealing that when you look past all of the noise, there’s maturity. Baldi had to stop himself from screaming a few times, which put his voice in sonic limbo – it was all the intensity without the volume. Baldi has claimed on several occasions that the lyrics of his songs are not significant, however, its hard to believe that with lyrics like, “I’m not you, you’re a part of me.” Baldi, an infectious awkward person, was shy and understated when not behind his guitar, rather uncomfortable with vulnerability when not performing. But when I confronted him about the lyrics, Baldi seemed to give in a little. “They’re about something, I just don’t like talking about it,” he admitted. “Saying they don’t mean anything is my go-to answer to avoid talking about it. They’re pretty personal and straightforward, if you read them you know what they mean.” His honesty was refreshing, considering how much he emphasizes honesty in his music.
A former saxophonist, Baldi admitted his love for Free Jazz legends Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman, who manage to be painfully honest without ever saying a word. “I just like the sound of things, and the way things all work together. I listen to a lot of jazz because I like when someone sounds honest or real, regardless of what they’re saying as long as they’re singing or playing in a way that seems like they really mean it.” In a way, this translates into Baldis’ music. He translates the frustration of the inability to confidentially articulate your emotions into noise; aggressive, relentless desperate coming from his guitar.
The next song that Baldi performed was “Now Here In,” also from the new album. Throughout the song, his voice cracked several times, as if to fill in the absence of the dissonance and noise typically accompanying the song. An occasional growl and voice crack acted as interesting interplay with the guitar. The parts of the song played lower on the neck typically stomp and thrash around, but acoustically, it was more of a tip-toe that hoped no one would hear it. Baldi attributes a lot of the more interesting noise and instrumentation on his newer albums with the fact they were recorded with a band. “It totally changes recording,” said Baldi. “They don’t play the same as me, they play stuff I wouldn’t even think, so when they start playing on them they become a something different than what I started with. I trust them enough to let them do whatever they want, I prefer it.”
Baldi finished up the set with “Psychic Trauma.” The way Baldi inflected the words “psychic trauma” stuck out and got glued in my mind for the rest of the day. Baldi managed to maintain all the emotional intensity that the screams contribute to the song without breaking the mics set up for an otherwise subtle, acoustic set. The tempo shift in the middle of the song catches you off guard and is a little awkward at first, but mostly comes off as understandable and interesting, much like Baldi himself.