When Cloud Nothings recorded its third album, the group had a lot riding on its sound. For one, it was the first time Dylan Baldi made his one-man project truly feel like a full band, and expectations were only heightened when Steve Albini was enlisted to produce in his notoriously hands-off way. The result was Attack On Memory, the band’s biggest and best record to date. Gone was the fuzzy, power-pop of Cloud Nothings and Turning On, replaced with jagged instrumentation that united Baldi’s interests in early indie-rock and angular post-hardcore seamlessly.
On paper, Here And Nowhere Else has all the trappings of being as adventurous as its predecessor. But from its start, it feels as if the mixture is a bit too homogenous. Where Attack used its opener (“No Future/No Past”) to draw a line in the sand between the band’s old and new material, Here And Nowhere Else’s “Now Here In” is a continuation of the newly established ethos. A sense of déjà vu follows as “Quieter Today” recycles the drum beat of “Now Here In” mere seconds after the first song finishes, and this familiarity allows the band to settle into itself without making any drastic shifts to its new template.
The fact that Cloud Nothings found a stable core enables them to recreate Attack’s punch, but gone is the ability to truly sideswipe its audience with anything unexpected. Where Attack’s Fugazi-inspired jamming manifested itself on “Wasted Days,” Here And Nowhere Else’s penultimate track “Pattern Walks” attempts to duplicate that magic, and though it comes close, it can’t help but feel like an unnecessary sequel to a peerless original.
It isn’t until album closer “I’m Not Part Of Me” hits that the band tinkers with this formula. It’s a song that’s as downright hooky as anything from Baldi’s power-pop days, but it’s re-contextualized for the band’s updated setting. At album’s end, Here And Nowhere Else can’t help but feel like a sophomore album, and in a way it is. Cloud Nothings has had two distinct sides of its career, and with Attack serving as a second chance at a first impression, using Here And Nowhere Else to solidify the group’s new sounds is as necessary as its predecessor’s progression. Though Here And Nowhere Else gets stuck in one setting, it’s proving that Cloud Nothings’ peerless critical darling wasn’t the result of dumb luck.