Discovering the Wipers and Hüsker Dü back catalogue changed everything for Dylan Baldi. The first couple of recordings Baldi made as Cloud Nothings, 2009’s Turning On and 2011’s self-titled effort, had little of the fire and urgency of the band that they’d soon become, one fed on a steady diet of SST and Dischord. And with each new release, the Cleveland-based group found themselves reassessing their approach. Their Steve Albini-produced 2012 album Attack on Memory redefined their terms, presenting Cloud Nothings no longer as a lo-fi recorded bedroom pop project but a proper post-hardcore band with fuel to burn and a hell of a lot of noise to make. And they made that noise fast; Attack on Memory‘s follow-up, 2014’s refined and more confident Here and Nowhere Else, was apparently written in just one day while under the influence of a lot of coffee—not bad for a new career peak. But as the band sharpened their riffs and clarified their statements of identity and uncertainty, Cloud Nothings still had plenty of growth ahead of them, and with 2017’s Life Without Sound, seemed to embrace a newly melodic, even pop-friendly sensibility. Just when you think you have Cloud Nothings figured out, they turn everything around.
It happens again on their sixth album Last Burning Building. Cloud Nothings have been in a state of constant forward movement for the past six years, and here, they’ve only accelerated the process. Where their songs from last year such as “Modern Act” found them both displaying a radio-friendliness and wisdom cultivated over a steady period of growth, their encore is an eight-song sequence of some of the fiercest rippers they’ve ever delivered. Cloud Nothings sound louder, heavier, darker and more menacing—though not necessarily angry, per Baldi. Right from the opening of “On An Edge,” the band drops the listener into what already seems like the middle of one of their most intense moments on record. We’re not given much time to catch up; in just a matter of seconds, Baldi begins unleashing the most abrasive bark he’s ever captured on tape. And by the bridge, the band tears through the kind of breakneck breakdown that’s been relatively scarce since Drive Like Jehu piloted their Rome plows.
Comprising eight songs, just like the band’s two most celebrated albums, Last Burning Building is a study in energy and momentum. At no point do Cloud Nothings ever slow down, nor do they bother interrupting the steady stream of harsh guitar riffs in favor of a gentler or more lush arrangement. There are no pianos or horns here, no acoustic guitars or backing choirs, and it’s telling that Randall Dunn (Wolves in the Throne Room, Earth) is the one behind the boards. There’s not even anything remotely resembling a ballad, which is perhaps true of every Cloud Nothings to an extent, but here it’s both exhilarating and exhausting just listening to them. It’s hard to wear out a sound’s welcome when it moves so fast and hits so hard, the group delivering one relentless anthem after another in around 35 minutes total.
To say Last Burning Building is an endurance test doesn’t do its songwriting justice, though it is quite a ride. The first single, “The Echo of the World,” rides a furious war-march rhythm a la Trail of Dead as it rides ever faster toward a triumphant, explosive climax. “Offer an End” is more post-punk than post-hardcore, with its arpeggios and harmonics juxtaposed against Baldi’s gloomy existential questions: “Who am I know? Do you know what I’ve been? Isn’t it time to put this all to an end?” The one outlier of sorts here, “Dissolution,” doesn’t change the sound but the duration, extending the band’s searing post-hardcore sound over the course of 10 minutes, not unlike Attack On Memory‘s “Wasted Days.” Subject matter, it mines a similar field as the band’s other meditations on loneliness and self-doubt (“I’m alone/ I need another voice to be at home“), but Baldi’s screams of “Don’t give him your… LOVE!” are the most desperate he’s ever sounded. And then, true to the song’s title, it simply dissolves into a lengthy ambient interlude before finding its hypnotic groove yet again.
Cloud Nothings made their share of dramatic moves over the past decade, though they had seemingly left their biggest transformations behind them. That’s apparently not the case; while Life Without Sound and Last Burning Building still sound like the same band, it’s two completely different sides of that band, one brighter and more measured, the other explosive and unhinged. It’s a side of Cloud Nothings they’ve always hinted at, and arguably even showcased in small doses, but on Last Burning Building, there’s nothing left to hold them back.
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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.