Dylan Baldi picks the 10 best Cloud Nothings songs

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The defining trait of Cloud Nothings‘ music is energy. Giddy energy, youthful energy, anxious, angst-ridden and urgent energy. In just over a decade, the Cleveland band has released eight full-length albums (including two since the pandemic-driven live-music lockdown), all of which showcase a band that’s driven by forward momentum. They change and evolve, expand and take new shape, but that drive and urgency never wavers.

With a significant amount of material recorded in the band’s decade-plus together, a lot of fan favorites and live staples come to mind: “Wasted Days,” “I’m Not Part of Me,” “Stay Useless.” None of which are among songwriter and vocalist Dylan Baldi’s favorite moments in the Cloud Nothings catalog. At least not at this moment in the band’s career—after having played them so many times, he’s comfortable giving them a little space for a while (though he says they’ll definitely play them all again when they get the opportunity). Instead, it’s the deeper cuts, the songs with some of the lesser-known backstories, that he speaks about most fondly.

Ahead of the release of the band’s eighth full-length album, The Shadow I Remember, Dylan Baldi talks us through his 10 favorite Cloud Nothings tracks, in chronological order.


“Turning On”

from Turning On (2009; Bridgetown)

Treble: This is one of your earliest songs, you must have been a teenager when you wrote it.

Dylan Baldi: I would have been 18, so that was one of the first songs I ever made, basically. I went back recently and listened through—Turning On was the first Cloud Nothings album, and we just reissued it. I went back and listened to it because I kind of forgot about it, but that one has most of the hallmarks of what I feel like I started doing with music and songs as I kind of progressed in terms of being a songwriter. There’s lots of natural dynamics and a little more space and room to hear individual parts of things rather than, like…a lot of the songs on that record sound like one big guitar playing a lot of things. That one really has the kind of natural build into a big climax at the end, and I think it’s different from the other songs on the record in that way and shows a little of what Cloud Nothings to come would be like.

Treble: When was the last time you played this, or really anything from Turning On, live?

DB: Not for a long time. Probably the last time we played any of these songs was around 2012. After we played all the songs from Attack on Nothing we’d come out and do “Hey Cool Kid” as an encore or something. Because we had no other songs. (Laughs) After we had a couple more records we stopped playing that stuff live, because it feels very… immature is the wrong word, but there’s a level of depth in the songs that came out after that, so to put those older songs in the set would take away from the flow of it all.


“Understand At All”

From Cloud Nothings (2011; Wichita/Carpark)

DB: That was on the self-titled record I made in Baltimore. That was kind of a funny time. I recently unearthed this demo I made of “Understand At All.” The way of music I was making had a specific sound, like the production of things. It immediately put me back in that era and I really liked hearing this thing because I still like songs that sound like that. It’s a very specific, blown-out, lo-fi sound I was doing for about a year or so, so it was nice to return to that.


“Forget You All the Time”

From Cloud Nothings (2011; Wichita/Carpark)

Treble: This one’s a bit more layered, more detailed than some of the other tracks around this time.

DB: There was a path I could have taken. I very clearly remember making “Forget You All the Time” because I had made my room a demo version in my parents’ house where I was living and growing up. And I had a real fleshed-out soft rock radio version of the song where it was acoustic guitars and pretty chiming guitars. It could have gone that route very easily. It’s not an aggressive song, but this jangly power pop song in this version I had. My dad came into the room and said ‘this sounds incredible!’ (Laughs) But the time I recorded it, I didn’t have the option to make that version, just because we didn’t have the time. But who knows what would have happened if I did, because it’s a very nice song. It has a pretty melody and produced in a clean way, it could have taken off in a different way than what Cloud Nothings ended up doing. We could have been a soft rock band.

Treble: (Laughs) Cloud Nothings, soft rock band!

DB: It’s a good name for a soft rock band, don’t you think?


“Separation”

From Attack on Memory (2012; Carpark)

DB: This is the only Attack on Memory one I picked because a lot of those songs to me are like… I’ve heard em enough at this point. We still play them—or we will play them when we do more shows in the future. But something about it sticks out to me. It’s the first instrumental song I made, basically, for Cloud Nothings, and it was kind of a good learning process for me to keep a song moving and have enough moving parts that there didn’t have to be vocals. It’s just a rock song, but I wanted there to be enough things happening that it didn’t get dull without me whining over it. I like that it’s different from our other songs in our catalog. 


“Quieter Today”

From Here and Nowhere Else (2014; Carpark/Mom + Pop)

DB: This is honestly one of my favorite Cloud Nothings songs. We used to start every show on the Here and Nowhere Else tour with this song. And I know this because we just released 30 live albums and we had to listen to them to make sure there was nothing wrong with them, and all the shows on this tour started with “Quieter Today.” It reminds me of, during that time, I was basically trying to be The Wipers. That was my goal as a human—to make Wipers albums. And I wasn’t really capable of doing that, but this is our take on that. It has that darkness to it, but the chorus is this big celebratory thing. To me it is a single, or could have been but isn’t as obviously melodic I guess.


“Giving Into Seeing”

From Here and Nowhere Else (2014; Carpark/Mom + Pop)

DB: We haven’t played this one for a while, but I really like this one. I really wanted it to be instrumental the whole time. And Here and Nowhere Else is the same format in a way as Attack on Memory—there’s eight songs, there’s a long song, there was going to be an instrumental song, it would have been just a different version of that record. But when we recorded it I thought I should scream on this so that there was something different going on. So I asked my friend who’s from a different country what her favorite English word is, and she said “Swallow,” so that’s what I yell at the end of the song. It’s funny to me that it’s why I’m doing it. It has no real meaning. But it’s always been one of my favorites.


“Up to the Surface”

From Life Without Sound (2017; Carpark)

Treble: This feels like a pretty significant shift from the last two records.

DB: The whole process of making that record was strange. I moved to Northampton, Massachusetts and I used to spend every day all day with everyone in the band, but I moved with my girlfriend and I wrote all these songs basically alone. Which I can do and I’ve done my whole life, but it was strange to do it and not have the option to play it with people. So that’s where the aggression comes in. When I write songs alone, I’m not trying to make some heavy mean-sounding thing. The songs, if there were no drums, the songs are kind of light in a way, and this record, because I had made everything alone, kind of—there’s some heavy stuff on there once we got together and played, but the songs have a lightness to them. This one is like the Slits version of “No Future/No Past.” I might have even ripped off a Coldplay melody, which I didn’t realize at the time, but Coldplay ripped off Kraftwerk, so it’s OK.


“Darkened Rings”

From Life Without Sound (2017; Carpark)

DB: This was a cool one for me because all the songs on Life Without Sound, this one just felt good to play this live, basically. It fit into the set and fit in with the older songs pretty well. But it was a different thing still. It felt different from the older songs, rather than slotting into Attack on Memory or something. I like that it retains its own identity but sounds like Cloud Nothings. That was important to me at the time, to have our own sound, I guess. Because like I said, I was just trying to rip off the Wipers for two years of my life. I even went as far as buying guitars and amps that I saw photos of Greg Sage using in the ’70s and ’80s. And this was kind of like me saying I can have these influences but I can make something where someone says “that sounds like Cloud Nothings” rather than just trying to copy another band.


“On an Edge”

From Last Burning Building (2018; Carpark)

Treble: And another change in direction. This is a much more aggressive track than most of the songs on Life Without Sound.

DB: Yeah, this one rips. That record came out about 2018, and we’d play that whole record front to back and that was the first part of the set. And then we’d play some songs that people probably don’t know, just like some awkward weird songs, and then some long songs, and that was our set. Which is probably a really antisocial and cruel thing to do to people who paid to see you. But that was just the trip we were on for about two years, so whoops. But yeah, this song, I mean starting a show with this song is very intense, in the same way it is to start a record with it. There’s no downtime, it just starts with this explosion and kind of falls apart at the end. It’s really fun to play. All the songs on this record are really fun to play, and we sort of played them into the ground. But the act of playing these is cathartic in a way. 


“So Right, So Clean”

From Last Burning Building (2018; Carpark)

DB: My girlfriend calls it the Jimmy Eat World song because it sounds like “Work,” which wasn’t on purpose but I must have internalized it at some point. It’s another one where I tend to like the songs that don’t have obvious analogues to to other songs. We don’t have another song that’s like a slow, brooding thing that occasionally blows up into a really loud part and then goes back down to a tense simmer. I like when the songs are a little different. I can sit down and write a song with some power chords and a catchy vocal melody and do that every day. And it might be good, but it’s in no way challenging to me. Somebody might like it but I won’t. So the songs that break out of that format or structure, those are the ones I’m most proud of and the ones that most make me feel something.


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