[OVERSHARE] Cloud Nothings’ ‘Attack On Memory,’ Or, What Happens When You Stop Being So Sadby maud on Jan 31, 2012 • 1:38 pm 2 Comments
I’m never sure things have gotten as bad as they really can until my entire life goes silent. It’s a funny thing for someone like me—a person who has made her life and livelihood out of the enjoyment, love, and understanding of music—to suddenly be unable to listen. That’s exactly what happens in the hardest parts of life, though. The second the curtain really goes down on a relationship, for example, my headphones lay buried in the recesses of an unused purse. My Spotify account goes dormant. Even, and I hate to admit this (sorry, publicists), the advanced copies of my most anticipated albums sit unopened on my desk, or in my “Listen to This” Gmail folder.
But then, suddenly, without warning, the music returns. In the case of the break up, which is both the most obvious and relevant example, it happens somewhere between returning the keys to “our” apartment and beginning to entertain the notion of kissing a cute boy on a Saturday night. People are always saying you can apply the stages of grief to the end of a long relationship, but I try and stick to a more practical set of milestones. They mark the end of that crying until you gasp anhedonia, the beginning of being able to breathe without thinking, and that moment when you realize that you’re not just fine: you’re better.
So what was the record that did it for me this time? It had to be a new one. There’s no wallowing in your favorite making dinner albums or the song he played the night he said he loved you—those are the things you listen to at the very beginning, when you know it’s over but you haven’t been able to accept it yet. No, once you’re learning to breathe, you have to find something entirely new. I was starting to get nervous that I would never be able to enjoy music again. It was taking too long. There was nothing that didn’t remind me of how sad I was. And then, an advanced copy of Cloud Nothings’ Attack on Memory landed in my inbox.
It’s loud, and fast, and produced by Steve Albini. I used to hear Albini’s voice through my bedroom wall after the biggest fights, screaming about squirrels and punishing me for not being the one to sleep on the couch, but being just one Kevin Bacon removed from those memories seems oddly fitting for my reinstitution of headphones to my pavement pounding walks through Manhattan. The heavy, near-to-choking vocals on Attack on Memory, a huge step away from front man Dylan Baldi’s barely grown up singing on the band’s debut record, are enough to inspire vague memories of covering-head-with-pillow to drown out Shellac’s 1000 Hurts, but lack the cold, calculated Albini-ness of that record. What the producer added in weight and aggression, Baldi’s songwriting and delivery maintained in emotion.
There are moments, like in the closing refrain of “Wasted Days,” in which Baldi screams in a choking pitch that’s as vulnerable as it is in possession of rage. It’s not guttural or animalistic; it’s a pitch that resembles that of a red-faced child in the final throes of a truly fraught tantrum. The song that follows, the sing-along friendly “Fall In,” has similarly raw vocals in its verses, mellowed by a hastily harmonized chorus. By modulating the emotion on the record from a scream to a cry to a croak, Baldi, and Albini in his production, are able to create what feels to the listener like an as nearly complete picture of heartache as can be hoped for.
For the first week or so, Attack on Memory was about all the music I had in me. I would walk from my temporary apartment to my either too-hot or too-cold office with the volume up so loud it was probably dangerous, and would hit play again right as the last song had finished. I’ve started to listen to other records, now, on my walks, but whenever I start to feel a little raw again, Attack on Memory is what gets me.