|Photo: SARA AMROUSSI-GILISSEN|
Electric Ballroom, Camden
1st December, 2014
The surge of mainstream electronic music this year with its more immediate, flash in the pan nature of has created icons overnight. Producers have moved from the dance floor to the top of the charts in one swoop, as the trajectory of a hit pop song and its creator becomes steeper. Guitar music on the other hand, looks a little different. By moving slightly out of the spotlight, it has become a much more fertile landscape for the hidden gems, for the slow burners and for the best kept secrets. Cloud Nothings deservedly end 2014 with their largest ever UK show tonight, as their critical and commercial arcs finally align.
‘Here and Nowhere Else’ is a breakthrough album. Cloud Nothings’ three previous records are good, largely, but with the inconsistencies of a band still struggling for any sort of clear, conceptual identity. They could have easily been accused ‘polishing up’, after the jangly, in-my-parents’-garage aesthetic of their previous body of work, and it’s true that ‘Here and Nowhere Else’ has clearer cadences, sharper mastering and an altogether stronger backbone that makes them easier to digest. This conviction though, this idea that saying something more clearly doesn’t have to diminish its effect, has allowed them to land on a sound that is fully formed and create one of the best albums this year.
‘Now Here In’ almost explodes on impact, where the drums are impossibly loud and the vocals coarse and frantic with almost no space at all between them. There is an urgency about the band tonight that nods back to the days of punk or early grunge, rattling through each tune too quickly as if it will only make sense once you hear the beginning of the next. Their ability to turn tension into aggression, even within the boundaries of a three minute song, is even more prevalent on a performance level. ‘Pattern Walks’ accelerates towards a terminal velocity of screaming lead guitar and crashing cymbals, whilst ‘Psychic Trauma’s’ change of pace feels so frenzied that Dylan Baldi’s vocals are rendered into an obscure growl. These are choruses to scream with a beer in the air, drum fills to bash out on your steering wheel and guitar solos that make you clench your fists. It’s clear that if Cloud Nothings were struggling to capture any sort of pure sound before, ‘Here and Nowhere Else’ is them completely nailing it.
The newest LP also sees them messing around with tempo more than they, or many other of their contemporaries have done before. Tonight they bend and stretch time signatures, capturing that same restlessness and inability to keep still supported by Baldi’s weary, anxious lyrics. This lends itself well to their live show, where each pull back is a chance to breathe, every dramatic upturn in speed an excuse to completely lose your shit. There are times where this haze of spontaneous aggression swallows the hooks that make these truly memorable songs, like I’m Not Part Of Me’, which has such a great chorus that it deserves to be played simply and unaltered rather than thrashed out and rushed. Cloud Nothings' quest to create the most visceral charge of energy and sustain it for a full ninety minutes performance is undeniably impressive, but it can have you longing for a bit of subtlety or some tiny nuances to cling onto. This is subjective criticism of course, and would no doubt be heartily rebuffed by the pocket of fans seemingly recreating the siege of troy at the front.
Cloud Nothings have grown louder, more confident and more compositionally assured, so if tonight feels like a victory lap of sorts then you can allow them a moment of indulgence. You get the feeling that Baldi and his band still consider themselves music fans before professional musicians, creating the sort of raw, no-thrills rock show that they will have grown up with. Their growing stature and success might force them into considering their live show beyond just a series of song renditions at some point in the near future. Until then though, party on.