DYLAN BALDI has an old soul. The baby-faced singer/guitarist of Cleveland rock quartet Cloud Nothings says he doesn't listen to anything that came out after he was born. At a wide-eyed 20 years old, he actually comes off more like the older, cynical, slightly out-of-touch dude who holes himself up in his apartment with stacks of punk records. This isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Attack on Memory—Cloud Nothings' third platter from Carpark Records, and first as a full band—zeroes in on oldsters weaned on late-'80s and early-'90s alternative and post-punk. Baldi seems more surprised than anyone about the album's glowing reception: "It's not really music that's necessarily in vogue right now, so it's kind of strange to me that so many people have picked up on it and like it as much as they do."
Baldi has taken some good-natured jabs at so-called "blog rock," referring to it as "garbage electronic synth fart music" in a recent interview with the Village Voice. This is a kid who was raised on Led Zeppelin and AC/DC, one who unabashedly holds a soft spot for Foghat and early ZZ Top ("Pre-beard, they were rockin'").
Baldi picked up the guitar from his father at age 10. Soon his attention drifted toward late-'60s rock and '70s punk, in particular some of the more angular sounds that came out of the Pacific Northwest. "Once I finally started playing guitar, and sort of figuring out how to really play, I was listening to a lot the Wipers," says Baldi. "The way Greg Sage plays had a big influence on how I played on this record. "
Attack on Memory is a guitar album through and through, filled with big riffs and a mess of tangled one-string notes. Cloud Nothings balance razor-sharp hooks with longer, noisier passages throughout the record's 30-minute running time. The cosmic rumble of "Wasted Days" carries on for nine minutes, while "Stay Useless" flirts with pop punk in a tidy 167 seconds. And although some of its thud can be credited to engineer Steve Albini ("We picked him because we wanted it to sound like four guys playing in a room"), Attack on Memory is ultimately the byproduct of restless youth.
After recording two Cloud Nothings albums on his own, Baldi assembled a band with a stable lineup of friends he met in the Cleveland music scene. It only adds to the appeal that—like many great bands before them—this scrappy crew comes from a rather modest blue-collar city. "A lot of my favorite bands are from places like Cleveland," Baldi says. "There's not a whole lot going on so people just kind of do more interesting stuff."
It also might be where some of the angst comes from, although Baldi says even that aspect of the music is starting to morph. The newer songs rattling around in his head are less terse and cranky, and more boundless and loose.
Cloud Nothings are riding quite a wave, having themselves become the recent talk of the blogosphere and beyond. Still, there's something timeless about the band. And while Baldi is well aware of the relatively short lifespan of new acts, he's certainly got a proper head on his shoulders for this sort of thing.
"I've already accomplished above and beyond everything I set out to do," he says. "It could end tomorrow, or we could get a really bad review, and that would be fine with me... even though it really wouldn't."