In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, in honor of our Best Films Of The Decade So Far list, we’re talking about songs from some of the best records of the decade so far.
When it comes to Cloud Nothings albums, a compelling case could be made for either Attack On Memory or Here And Nowhere Else being one of the decade’s best records. While they are both great, for me there’s no real debate: It’s Attack On Memory all the way. And that’s because that album has “Stay Useless” on it. This isn’t to say that the band’s other songs aren’t up to snuff—they most certainly are—but it’s impossible to think of a track that’s defined the 2010s era of guitar rock as much as “Stay Useless.”
Prior to Attack, Cloud Nothings was a glorified solo project, serving as an outlet for Dylan Baldi’s fuzzy, bedroom-pop. Attack’s opener “No Future/No Past” put the record’s thesis right in the song title, as the track plucked out all its bubblegum tendencies and replaced it with angsty despondence. Yet it’s “Stay Useless” that truly personifies the concept of Cloud Nothings not being beholden to its past work or its newfound aspirations.
“Stay Useless” is an indie-rock song masquerading as a pop song. From those chiming chords that introduce the track, there’s rarely a deviation from its central melody. When the chorus comes in and drummer Jayson Gerycz washes the song with emphatic cymbal smacks, the band’s pop-rock inclinations unifies with its noise-rock ambitions. As Baldi and guitarist Joe Boyer segment the guitar riffs into chunky staccato slaps in the final chorus, the band embraces the fact that its clamor can feel warm and welcome.
Attack On Memory remains as vital now as it was then. Though not the only indie-rock record to embrace the influences of a bygone era, it was an important step for both the band and its fans. The album allowed snobby Steve Albini types to embrace pop songwriting, and fans of pitch-perfect melodies to get down to a nearly nine-minute jam session. One could argue that Cloud Nothings blends these elements even more on last year’s Here And Nowhere Else, but there’s something special about how “Stay Useless” allows listeners to hear those pieces fall into place for the very first time.