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Sometimes there's just not that much to say. And for our clusterfuck digital age, that simply will not do. After all, there are marketing campaigns to be waged, videos to go viral, tweets to send, likes to harvest, content to generate. We're inculcated to think that people should be talking, even if it's just so some noise is generated. Anything will do really. Hey, look! Kim and Kanye took a photo! Err...so did Ellen! Did you SEE that show where you watch people watching TV?!
Against this background of digital babble, it's refreshing to make out Cloud Nothings frontman Dylan Baldi sing/spit against raging, rabid guitars that he's "trying to hear what you're trying to say when we're just far too loud" on 'No Thoughts'. It may be the equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and shouting "LA LA LA NOT LISTENING TO YOU", but it's still an effective defence against the rising tide of the banal. What's more, the title implies there's another reductive step; sometimes there's not only nothing to say, there's nothing to think either. It sounds blissful.
So in the absence of engagement, what do you do? Well, as cliched as it may sound, feeling - that gutsy sensation that's not often wrong - is the only thing that's left. Here and Nowhere Else is a brilliant testament to it and is as tactile a record as you're ever likely to hear. It's one that - as its title may imply - lives very much in the now, capturing a band stretching every sinew in what are often crushingly vital performances as they subsume themselves in sound. It's in the choppy waters of 'Psychic Trauma', the lava flow of 'Now Hear In' and the great squall of 'Quieter Today', again a demonstrative title if ever there was one.
At this juncture I should also point out that sonically - and this is a compliment to its earthy heft - it's not a particularly easy record to write about. After all, there are only so many descriptors for distorted guitars, so let's get some out of the way now. There are avalanches of guitar. There's churning scuzz. There are buzzsawing, coruscating maelstroms of guitar. (The press release has "corkscrewing guitar" which is a particularly good one, and that's why someone's making money doing band PR and I'm not.) But they're all there, and invariably sound fantastic. Special mention must go to the frankly phenomenal powerhouse drumming from Jayson Gerycz that underpins the record and drags the set by the scruff of the neck. The pace never really drops, and rarely has such pleasure been derived from being so comprehensively pummelled into submission.
What's equally refreshing is the band's refusal to pander to expectation. It's only natural - a band so blunt and unsentimental make no promises, and with material that places so little stock in what others say, there's bound to be even less invested in what they think. Less than zero, even. Paradoxically, in ignoring demands the band have raised the bar after the general feeling was that they had hit a high watermark with 2011's Albini-led Attack on Memory, a thematically deeper and well produced record.
Where Attack... had a lyrical drive, here it's musical. Yet the approach is diffuse, a return to the basement of Baldi's early lo-fi, his vocals sometimes buried in the mix, sketches of themselves. At times it sounds like a rehearsal being recorded, snatches of lyrics heard in the racket, but it results in a real snap and snarl. The sound is never pedal-on-pedal big - the opposite of stadium-sheen - but essential and visceral, something ripped out and still writhing. Few bands manage to capture that on record.
'Pattern Walks' absolutely blows the doors off. It's seven minutes of head-down, pneumatic rock cleaved by a rare atmospheric break, and amps are clattered as the song flies off into a fantastic drone finale, destabilising and crushing itself as Baldi is trapped in an echo chamber: "I thought / I thought / I thought / I thought / I thought / I thought..."
It doesn't sound like using his noodle did him much good, and that's the point. This record is a paean to intensity, the band's most essential set of songs that's not remotely concerned with theme and brightness; less an attack on memories and more an attack on instruments. As an orthodox artistic statement, it may be deemed retrograde step in some quarters. But does that matter? As a careening, breakneck listen, this will be up there as one of the best of the year.