Wavves and Cloud Nothings began their careers pretty much the same way, performing lo-fi indie pop songs with big hooks and small means. And in their own way they were both plenty charming, even if the talent that both Dylan Baldi and Nathan Williams harbored was still a few years from truly flourishing. That’s inevitable; they were both incredibly young at the time of their respective debuts—Williams just over 20, and Baldi just under. But their growth has revealed two musicians on parallel but markedly different paths. Williams has embraced hi-fi and toned down the fuzz, while Baldi has abandoned the fuzz pop in favor of a seething, snarling post-hardcore sound informed by Fugazi and The Wipers. Listening to Cloud Nothings’ 2014 album Here and Nowhere Else back to back with 2009’s Turning On, you’d probably assume they were different bands.
Given their relatively similar origins, penchant for heavily distorted punk rock and concise song structures, Wavves and Cloud Nothings make for logical collaborators, if not necessarily natural ones. On their new collaborative album, No Life for Me, the two artists blur together fairly seamlessly, melting into one amorphous glob of overdrive and angst. And that’s actually sort of unfortunate; considering how much of an artistic evolution Cloud Nothings has undergone in the last five years, Baldi feels more like a guest star than a featured performer. No Life for Me sounds, more or less, like a Wavves album with a few extra people in the room, rather than the best use of everyone’s talents.
Still, Williams has grown as a songwriter in recent years, and there are brief flashes of inspiration throughout No Life for Me; the “I’m such a fucking mess” lyrics of “How It’s Gonna Go” aren’t nearly as interesting as the chord structures or Baldi’s melodic chorus, and “Come Down” doubles as a fairly compelling Cloud Nothings demo. But that gets at the other major drawback of this album: It feels unfinished. The whole Wavves x Cloud Nothings experience lasts only 21 minutes, and as much potential as there are in many of the songs, few of them sound as if they’ve been afforded the care and attention given any of the best of either artist’s work.
Wavves x Cloud Nothings might have made more sense if delivered as a seven-inch, rather than a scant sliver of an album that doesn’t seem to justify its asking price. It’s not so much that No Life for Me is a failure so much as it is a missed opportunity. Here are two bands with impressive musicians and songwriters, simply making listenable songs rather than aiming for anything that would stand up to their respective catalogs. And there’s no reason to believe they couldn’t; they just didn’t.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.