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Album Review: 'Last Building Burning' by Cloud Nothings

Marcel Thee

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Fri, November 16, 2018  /  10:09 am
Album Review: 'Last Building Burning' by Cloud Nothings

‘Last Building Burning’ by Cloud Nothings (Cloud Nothings/File)

Not that Cloud Nothings were ever anything but a propulsive, aggressive band, but their fifth and latest album, Last Building Burning, finds them at their most beautifully ferocious — more than ever before.

As the very few lucky Indonesians who watched them last month at a music festival here (horribly under-promoted and horribly scheduled), this is a band that truly carries the torch of underground rock in its most literal form. Their songs may range in dynamics, but the underlying naked emotionality is unflinching, perpetually tethering at a magnetic breaking point.

Last year’s Life Without Sound came closest to branching out the band’s dynamics, with a more defined texture that focused deeper on vocal melodies and less aggressive arrangements, bringing the band’s sound closer to “traditional” indie rock. But Last Building Burning pulls back on that approach, running almost breathlessly on fumes of angst and desperation — that is until a spectacular three-song run toward the album’s end.

This chaotic artistry comes by design. The band — which began as a solo project of frontman Dylan Baldi but has expanded into a foursome — consciously wrote punk-grunge-adorned rock songs that harkened back to the less stilted days of mainstream indie, when unpredictability, dissonance and a perpetual sense of danger were a natural part of music, even within popular bands, such as Nirvana and Drive Like Jehu.

“I wrote this [album] because I feel like there aren’t too many rock bands doing this right now,” states Baldi on the record’s press release. “A lot of the popular bands with guitars are light. They sound good, but it’s missing the heaviness I like.”

And heavy is Last Building Burning. Recorded with Randall Dunn, who has recorded heavy acts like Sunn O))), Wolves in the Throne Room, and Boris, at Sonic Ranch studio in Texas. The record’s lively texture lends it the feeling of a live show. Recalling the band’s earlier releases, the album delivers raunchy guitars, blistering low end and rampageous drums. Baldi’s vocals never sounded so — for lack of better word — “emotional” as they do on this album. Raspy and delivered with a frustrated glee, they keep every moment on edge, even the record’s prettier moments.

The songs are directly punk-ish. Opener “On An Edge” ravages with Baldi’s constant screams and tumultuous rhythms, seemingly building to a crescendo from the get-go. As Baldi himself states, it’s one of the band’s most “agro” tracks. “In A Shame” comes close to the mix of perpetual buildup of career-highlight “Here and Nowhere Else ( 2014 )”, mixing immediate melodies with parts that go from crunch to absolute crush — all barely glued together through catchy melodies and boisterous drums. Indeed, it’s Baldi’s tightness with his band — drummer Jayson Gerycz, bassist TJ Duke, and guitarist Chris Brown — that makes every riotous fiber of the song stick together.

“Offer an End” is the song’s most direct song, both melodically and texturally. Grungy in its quiet-loud-quiet dynamics, the song makes a perfect pairing against the triumphant angst of “The Echo of the World”. “So Right So Clean” moves at a patient pace but presides with that familiar sense of discontent.

The last songs take a wild sonic turn. As Baldi states, “I’m obsessed with the idea of energy at the moment […]. That’s how I thought of this record: seven short, and one long, bursts of intense, controlled chaos.”

The idea was to make a record “that come across in a way that can actually be felt”.

As such, “Dissolution” evolves from its familiar punk start (almost reminiscent of the emo legends Jawbreaker in its harmonious verses) into a rumbling noise of textural percussions and free-form guitars and bass, before climbing back from that abyss with a motorik-style run as a crescendo.

It bears repeating that Last Building Burning is an emotional record, and while it’s easy to scoff at the generic quality of that word, it rarely feels as fitting (and convincing) as it does here. Melodically and dynamically, this isn’t the best Cloud Nothings record, but it explodes with such disgruntlement and contained bleakness, that its downtrodden homogeneity becomes something of a super power — something that feels incredibly rare in the highly curated world of music these days, underground or otherwise.

Last Building Burning is a breath of fresh, crestfallen air. It’s open-hearted desolation reminiscent of the days when grunge reigned supreme. And while depression or bleakness, in its many forms, may not be a celebratory occasion, there is truth in the art of Cloud Nothings that feels beautifully out of place in the current climate. A must-have rock record in every sense, and a reminder of music as art.