Cloud Nothings’ 20-year-old singer-songwriter Dylan Baldi has described the Cleveland band’s latest LP as “an attack on the memory of what people thought the band was.” That might sound grandiose, but the tortured smoldering of Attack On Memory’s opening track “No Future/No Past” is about as far removed from the sugary pop-punk of last year’s Cloud Nothings as heroin is from Mountain Dew. As the drums hit with the punishing heaviness of a baseball bat slapping a side of beef—a sound that practically screams, “This was recorded by Steve Albini!”— Baldi slowly works himself up into a lather, taking as much time to hit the emotional center of the song as he once did hyperactively dispensing several sticky-sweet hooks over the course of two or three tracks. Baldi used to write like a kid anxiously dodging boredom; on Attack On Memory, he’s moved in the opposite direction, opening up wide spaces in his music and letting the fury beneath breathe and then bellow.
Baldi hiring Albini to record Attack On Memory is the most obvious explanation for the album’s aggressively physical sound, but it’s not necessarily the one that matters most. That would be Baldi’s decision to record with his touring band, as opposed to playing everything himself, as he did on Cloud Nothings. Even when Baldi returns to the comfortable milieu of hooky pop on “Fall In” and “Stay Useless,” the extra oomph from the live band is a plainly obvious and forcefully propulsive improvement. When Cloud Nothings tear into the furious, Hüsker Dü-like instrumental “Separation,” Baldi’s solo recordings can’t help sounding fey in comparison.
The added instrumental muscle is also noticeable on Attack’s best song, “Wasted Days,” which starts off as chunky, melodic punk in the mold of Cloud Nothings, before veering off into a paint-peeling jam that pushes the song to the nearly nine-minute mark. “I thought I would be more than this,” Baldi sings in the chorus; with Attack On Memory, he’s gotten closer to the big rock sounds in his head.