Final Summer Keeps The Engine Humming for Cloud Nothings

Cleveland’s most consistent rock group returns with—surprise, surprise—another solid album.

Music Reviews Cloud Nothings,
Final Summer Keeps The Engine Humming for Cloud Nothings

Somewhere off in the distance, Dylan Baldi is working diligently on the guitar. As the frontman for indie rock anchors Cloud Nothings, Baldi tries out incessant melodies and distortion tones with Sisyphean regularity, in a way that suggests that an ideal, snarling guitar lick is just around the corner, waiting to be unearthed. His quest for perfection has taken him to the furthest limits of guitar-dominated rock music. Cloud Nothings soaked up dinky, reverb-heavy grooves on their 2011 self-titled debut and rekindled a similar pop rock in hi-fi for 2017’s Attack on Memory before descending into shouted, noise-rock convulsions on 2018’s Last Building Burning. Recent releases, particularly 2021’s moving The Shadow I Remember, have staked out a middle-ground in these potential styles, allowing Baldi and his band to link a few new tricks to a well-worn house style.

Final Summer is not a colossal change of pace, a step forward in lyrical maturity or an exploration of the band’s free jazz side-project Baldi/Gerycz Duo. More than anything, the band’s eighth studio album is a reassurance that Baldi will always discover new ways to turn existential angst into meaty, catchy, sometimes-heavy rock songs. As Cloud Nothings turn 15 years old, Baldi’s repetitive mantras are simpler than ever, imbuing uneasiness into only a handful of words. Recorded by Philadelphia mainstay Jeff Zeigler (The War on Drugs, Torres) and mixed by Sarah Tudzin of Illuminati Hotties, Final Summer is a dependable, giant slab of rock music in its purest form.

But first, Cloud Nothings offer up a decoy. The title-track leads the audience astray with Serge synthesizers that wander across the album’s opening minute. It’s the only appearance of keyboards on Final Summer, which gives this healthy, typical Cloud Nothings song an added push, letting Chris Madak’s whirling modular synths juice the tension. As Jayson Gerycz reliably collides with his snare drum and Baldi loops his guitar part as if he were playing a technique exercise, Madak’s work here adds to the sweaty, sunset feel of “Final Summer.” Baldi’s lyricism has often been preoccupied with searching for comfort in the present, usually tinged with some excitement for the future. “I need to be happy with what I’ve got in front of me,” he intones here, making due with what’s immediate.

Occasionally Final Summer will hammer a hook into oblivion, finding new meaning by letting a line repeat and repeat. “Daggers of Light” concludes with Baldi peering through a looking glass, chanting “I was on the edge of another life”—as if his reiterations would somehow transport him there. The early single “I’d Get Along” contains a total of nine words, creating an chaotic adrenaline rush when Baldi finally belts the title. According to Baldi, the song stems from a pandemic-era obsession with doom metal, which explains its nasty, firm guitar tones. But between wailing guitar bends and a slower tempo, the penultimate “On The Chain” is where Baldi’s repetitions grow a little tiring.

When Here and Nowhere Else recently turned 10 years old, the band commemorated the anniversary with a tour that managed to avoid cheap nostalgia because of their extraordinary live show. But Baldi pages through his memories at points on Final Summer, occasionally letting them trickle into his forward-thinking, catchy slogans. The literal, infectious “Running Through the Campus” pairs Baldi’s favorite hobby with the jarring experience of being home in Cleveland and seeing the Case Western Reserve campus where he used to attend class. “Can you believe how far I have come?” he asks, leaving us with an earworm that chronicles his desire to do a marathon in every state. On the aforementioned “Dagger of Light,” a sludging, clamorous number, he stumbles upon an old photo, remarking that “it was weird but you were in my life.”

Baldi has always been effective at conjuring a stark sense of feeling, even if the specifics aren’t usually in focus. On “The Golden Halo,” Baldi holds out the words “gold today” as if he was avoiding further conversation, countering the song’s aggressively sunny, jubilant guitar melody that could be at home on 2020’s The Black Hole Understands. Baldi described Final Summer as being about how “you’ve got to accept the way things are and just go forth on your own little path” in a recent interview with Treble. But this isn’t a nihilistic record, especially with the wistful but bright closing sentiment of “Common Mistake”—where Baldi sings “You’ll be alright, just give more than you take.” But most of the talking is done by Gerycz’s sledgehammer drumming and Baldi’s layered guitars, a hallmark of all great Cloud Nothings songs.

Ethan Beck is a writer from Pittsburgh who lives in Brooklyn. His work can be found at Bandcamp Daily, Paste Magazine, Washington Square News and others.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin