Oh Cleveland‚ will your blessings unto us never end? The endless ways that teenagers can entertain themselves in parents' basements really are the cornerstone of all that is holy in America. Thus it wasn't any surprise when Dylan Baldi's recordings from his Buckeye homestead hit the scene last year‚ and were really fucking good: Low-fi like a Pavement fan's demo tape‚ the punk sensibility of a pre-Fall Out Boy society‚ and songs way too catchy to just be coming entirely from the head of a 19-year-old. But that they were. And while things have been polished up on his self-titled label debut‚ the deluge of musical ideas and killer tracks are still pouring headstrong.
With eleven songs totaling less than 28 minutes‚ Cloud Nothings never allows for more than half a second for you to catch your breath. "Understand at All" strikes quick‚ and makes you instantly yearn for someone to jump in to. There's a familiar sincerity to his attack‚ reminiscent of everyone from The Ramones to Jay Reatard‚ yet he manages to claim a unique structure of his own. Straight from the opening track's repeated line: "I don't understand at all‚" he makes it obvious that if a phrase sounds good 2 or 3 times in a row‚ then it's gonna sound killer 7 or 8 times.
Alongside his post-pubescent voice‚ "Should Have" sounds like the best Sleater-Kinney track you've never heard before‚ but finds distinction by the utilization of rapid stop-and-gos in his songs. Driven by the fact that he recorded all the instruments himself‚ the drums take a very literal following of the guitar lines -- he locks in with himself better than anyone has done since J. Mascis in mid-era Dinosaur Jr. And since I'm not shying away from comparisons‚ "You're Not That Good at Anything" sounds like vintage Buzzcocks.
On "Heartbeat" he is both naïve enough and ballsy enough to make a 79 second song where literally half of it is the line: "I don't have a heartbeat‚ why don't you." Baldi positively loves to repeat himself like a broken record‚ but it isn't a gimmick. He just believes in the music he's making enough to never want his favorite parts to end. "Been Through" is a raging tune‚ but also a great‚ melodic pop song. And its lyrics seem like a mantra for the modern angst over suburban acceptance: "Do you feel alright? You shouldn't." It's basement rock at its finest‚ and while the last year has seen the neo-punk scene become saturated with the So-Cal surf sound‚ Cleveland suddenly sounds very refreshing.