Nothingness and Nirvana

Cleveland indie group Cloud Nothings grunges things up on a new disc

March 28, 2012

Cloud Nothings frontman Dylan Baldi led a recent, fuzzed-up change to his band’s previously poppy, indie-rock sound.

Changing up your sound can be nerve-wracking for any band, because you risk alienating your loyal fans. Fortunately, Cleveland’s Cloud Nothings didn’t have that many fans to begin with.

“We were touring a lot,” says frontman Dylan Baldi, “and no one was coming to see us. We thought it might be a sign that we were doing something that people didn’t really like.” The band wanted a change, too. “I was getting bored playing the same things over and over. I got sick of it,” he says. “I wanted to do something different.”

After two well-reviewed albums of catchy indie pop, Cloud Nothings abandoned the verse-chorus-verse song structure and found their inner Nirvana. The band drafted legendary studio engineer Steve Albini (who produced Nirvana’s 1993 record, “In Utero”) and laid down their third and best album, “Attack on Memory,” in just four days. The guitars are sharp and abrasive instead of bouncy and upbeat, the vocals are often shrieked instead of crooned and the songs change course unpredictably, keeping listeners on their toes.

“Wasted Days,” the album’s centerpiece, is a nearly nine-minute jam that explodes into a monster bridge that makes a persuasive case for drummer Jayson Gerycz to be named the best drummer in indie rock. Yet for all its churning guitars and throat-shredding vocals, the song is catchy, even succinct, despite its long running time.

“There’s a lot more jamming going on than there has been in the past,” says Baldi. “Really, what I like in songs is for there to be some surprising things. That’s something we’re always reaching for, something memorable and weird. But it can’t sound disjointed. It has to sound like one cohesive song.”

The change in musical direction has rejuvenated Cloud Nothings, and it has brought more people out to their shows. “I know that it doesn’t sound like the most original thing on earth,” Baldi says, “but we’re just excited to be playing it. And I think that makes it come across as much more urgent.”

Inside Tracks: Clocking in at nearly nine minutes, “Wasted Days” is the centerpiece of “Attack on Memory.” It’s an account of life in a struggling indie band: “I thought I would be more than,” Dylan Baldi shouts desperately, as though making up for so many wasted days.

The Red Palace, 1201-1212 H St. NE; Sat., 9 p.m.,sold out; 202-399-3201. (Union Station)
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Christopher Porter | March 28, 2012