To say that Cloud Nothings have lost some of their snarl on Here and Nowhere Else, the fourth album from Dylan Baldi and company, might seem like an insult. This is a band founded on a certain measure of aggressive energy, which memorably exploded from restrained pop-punk power to thrashing might on their last effort, the Steve Albini-produced Attack on Memory. Here, on the group’s second release as a full band, without rock’s master of darkness behind the boards, that intensity fades a bit, but the effect is tantamount to the lifting of a haze, granting greater clarity to the strong musicianship that undergirds these still-powerful songs.
For some bands, ferocity is a necessity, the only means of communicating. For others, it’s simply an effective means of expressing force, and the ability to parcel it out in balanced portions, shifting between different gears, lends increased gravity to the denser moments. Cloud Nothings seem increasingly like the latter, versatile artists whose outbursts are backed by more than just energy. Here and Nowhere Else is less caustic and a bit less adventurous, but it effectively unites the band’s two sounds, the original core of catchy lo-fi, a relic of early days as a teenage solo project, and Attack on Memory’s denser, sludgier stuff. These are knotty songs thick with hooks, most of them halfway buried beneath a furious onslaught of pummeling drum work and incessantly shifting guitar lines.
The resulting sound resembles that of the Strokes with a serious power infusion, the wavering two-step between boredom and angst flipped upside down. The songs are either manic or hyper-manic, never letting down the intensity, seething even in quieter moments. There’s still screaming, but it’s only one of several vocal modes for the increasingly flexible Baldi, and it serves as a valuable tool, pushing an already frantic song like “Just See Fear” over the edge. Tracks like “No Thoughts” mix chaos with proficiency, sheets of percussion beating over a sturdy bassline, while “Giving Into Seeing” threads surf licks into heavy rhythm distortion. Cloud Nothings make a habit of tossing in these little half-ironic inflections, glimmers of levity amid the frenzy, confirming them as a band with both serious instrumental skill and a clear awareness of their influences. It’s all part of the sizable growth demonstrated on Here and Nowhere Else, which more than anything is defined by the sound of raw energy giving way to coherence and control.