Lets get this out of the way: Dylan Baldi, the founder and core of the Cleveland post-hardcore band Cloud Nothings, is 22 years old.
If you read an article about the band, theres a good chance it will mention Baldis age in the first paragraph. (And, yes, those odds just went up about 30 words ago.) This doesnt bother the preternaturally talented songwriter, whos seen his age highlighted since he started Cloud Nothings when he was 18.
He does have a theory about why it happens, though.
I think thats something a lot of people do because theres not much else to write about, really, with us, because were not sensational in any other way, he says in a jet-lagged phone interview from a tour stop in Portland, where hes just arrived from his home in Paris. If people want to write about us, its not like were crazy, with some kind of wild story. The most insane thing is that I dropped out of college.
Dropping out of college: not insane, though Baldi does have a good line about his decision to ditch life as a saxophone major at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland:
I just started thinking, OK, if I finish this, Ill just be massively in debt and will be able to play saxophone really good. What is the point? he says. So I just stopped.
Jazzs loss is a gain for lovers of rumbling, rough-hewn rock n roll, the kind thats bursting with melody and bereft of frills. During the past four years, Baldi has steered Cloud Nothings from an unassuming indie-pop band to the powerhouse behind two albums that were widely, lavishly praised: 2012s Attack on Memory and this years Here and Nowhere Else.
The former was Cloud Nothings breakthrough, a collection of lean, punchy pop songs that showcased Baldis tuneful instinct, even when he masked it with slurred lyrics and screams. The latter is a step forward: clearer but not too polished, more confident but purposefully ragged, and muscular without overrunning the melodies. Guitars churn and cymbals crash across its eight bracing tracks, which sound like theyre headed downhill with no brake pedal to be found. A pile-up is imminent—a brutal and beautiful pile-up.
Cloud Nothings play Friday, July 11 at Soda Bar
The lead track, Now Hear In, buzzes along at breakneck speed before offering some lyrical misdirection at the end, as Baldi sings, I know theres nothing left to say four times in the outro. Quieter Today and Psychic Trauma find the frontmans scratchy howl squarely in the Cobain Zone, while the chorus of Giving into Seeing—the word swallow screamed over and over—sounds like it couldve been plucked from the second half of Nirvanas Incesticide. Elsewhere, the marble-mouthed melody of Im Not Part of Me evokes The Replacements, and the frayed-punk spirit of The Wipers hovers over everything.
Theres something particularly blue-collar about Cloud Nothings music, a quality that can be traced to Baldis Midwestern work ethic. He says he lacks an artistic temperament and takes a very utilitarian approach to making music.
Thats the only way I can feel like Im actually doing something. Because I do like having goals and achieving those rather than just being like, Who knows whats going to happen today, man? Baldi says with a chuckle.
I have a sort of 9-to-5 mentality about what I do. That sounds stupid and almost insulting to people with jobs like that, but thats how everybody that I grew up around and everybody that I know has worked for a long time, so I treat it that way, too.
To his credit, Baldi accepts the bad parts of the workingmans toil with the positives of being in a successful touring band: Its exhausting—but thats a necessary part of being in a band.
Of course, as anyone with a 9-to-5 job knows, there are days when clocking out for good seems more appealing than facing another day. Its a feeling Baldi knew well before Cloud Nothings gained traction, and one he still experiences.
Ill probably think about [calling it quits] tomorrow if Im in the van for too long. Thats something that always goes through my head, he says. But even when [the band] wasnt going well, it was still like we made just enough money to get by, and it was still a better job than anything else I could possibly be doing. And it was way better than school, cause I hated school. So I was OK.
Thats good news, given the arc of Cloud Nothings career so far, a career built on a sound that Baldi talks about as if it doesnt always make sense to him.
I want to do something new with every record. I want to do something different. But somewhere, obviously, theres some part of me that [keeps] making pop songs, which is not the kind of stuff I listen to all the time, he says.
Its interesting to me that Ive chosen that route for this band. I dont know why I did it, but it feels like I just want to keep doing that better.