Album Review: Cloud Nothings, ‘Final Summer’

    Cloud Nothings make songs to get you through the day, but they often also just capture a day – even a moment – in the life of the person behind them. “I never run for anyone else/ It’s just a thing I do for myself,” Dylan Baldi sings on ‘Running Through the Campus’, a highlight from the band’s new album Final Summer, and sometimes, you get the sense that music is a similarly solitary, self-sustaining thing. “I love having something that I’ve made by the end of the day, even if it’s just one song,” Baldi said in press materials. “It’s like proof that my day happened.” In their final, collected form, the new songs are also proof that, 15 years into their career, Cloud Nothings remain one of the most reliably rewarding indie rock bands around, one whose consistency is a testament to their creative drive rather than a sign of stagnancy. The ideas keep coming just like the days do, and Baldi knows how to churn them out into big, endlessly hooky rock songs.

    Though they never stray far from the initial point of inspiration, Baldi still twists these songs in interesting ways. Rather than a kind of literal, anthemic tune, ‘Running Through the Campus’ offers a glimpse into the loneliness of that late-night activity, leaving space for plenty of intrusive thoughts before landing on a triumphant note: “Can you believe how far I have come/ Another plane than where I come from.” Instead of carrying the dark emptiness he sings about, Baldi’s gleaming, blown-out guitars seem to bleed into the early morning, nicely leading into the bright burst of energy that is ‘The Golden Halo’. Even when whatever events fuel a song are kept hidden, Baldi skips directly to the message and spins it out over and over until it imprints itself on your brain, as on the thrilling ‘I’d Get Along’. “Why do you blow out every little light and live in the dark?” he wonders on ‘Silence’, a song that reminds us how easy it is to despair in a dying world, and his response – the goal he lays out as early as on the opening track – is to fill his own world with colour.

    So even if his reflections sound hushed on a song like ‘On the Chain’, he makes sure the instruments surge exactly as they should. Following 2021’s The Shadow I Remember, which found Cloud Nothings reuniting with Steve Albini, the producer behind their acclaimed 2012 LP Attack on Memory, Final Summer was recorded with Jeff Zeigler, mixed by illuminati hotties’ Sarah Tudzin, and mastered by Jack Callahan; Baldi has said he wanted every step of the process to make the record sound bigger, and you can hear it. Even at its most tuneful, the production is thick and noisy, like you’d expect tight pop songs written by someone in the midst of a doom metal obsession to sound (at least on ‘I’d Get Along’). The songs are self-contained instead of veering towards destruction as they would on earlier Cloud Nothings records, but Baldi is great at beefing up different points in a song so they exude the same intensity as the main hook. The results are sneakily dynamic: ‘Daggers of Light’ screeches and burns off at the edges, and when ‘Mouse Policy’ reaches its meditative outro, the rhythm section is still wiry and fraught, soaking in the song’s questions rather than faking a resolution.

    As dour as the lyrics can get, the songs on Final Summer always cling to a sense of hope that also charges the music forward. The takeaways are simple and can be gleaned just from the songs bookending the record – “I need to be happy with what I’ve got for me,” Baldi reminds himself on the title track, while ‘Common Mistake’ is more didactic: “This is your life/ It’s a common mistake/ You’ll be alright/ Just give more than you take.” At times, you wish the record gave you a little more to chew on; in mirroring the feeling of days blurring into each other, it doesn’t do much to carve a bigger story or tie the songs together. But Cloud Nothings’ resistance to narrative, more than just refreshing in today’s indie rock landscape, is also energizing: you make songs and say the mantra not because you’ve been on some healing journey, but simply because it helps you believe it, or you’re standing alongside someone who needs to hear it; not because you pretend to know what’s on the other side, but because it keeps us going.

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    Cloud Nothings make songs to get you through the day, but they often also just capture a day - even a moment - in the life of the person behind them. “I never run for anyone else/ It's just a thing I do for...Album Review: Cloud Nothings, 'Final Summer'