Let’s hear it for the guitar nerds.
Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound (Carpark)
Dylan Baldi was doomed to unhappiness from birth. The poor bastard was born in Cleveland, the quintessential place to indulge one’s youthful fatalism. With the existential ennui possessed by the greatest punks and a city-sized chip on his shoulder, Baldi channels teenage angst through a sea of noise and distortion. If the lyrics are obsessed with failure and self-loathing, the music tows the line between indie-rock exuberance and garage-band purism. This is his fourth album in nearly 10 years and makes him a savvy veteran at age 25. But something important happened in the three years between records. Chalk it up to maturity or a steady paying gig, but Baldi’s dour disposition has turned sunny side up, making this his most upbeat, melodic and enjoyable batch of tunes yet. With a voice that recalls a post-pubescent Tom DeLonge and a howl to make Cobain proud, he realizes treading water ain’t the worst fate. Rare is the young punk who’s equally thoughtful and declarative (“I want a life / That’s all I need lately.”) and so remorseful of his selfish past (“Because of what I thought / It’s people who should hurt.”). Not all of the kids are alright, but Baldi and company have turned a corner. Here’s to finding out better selves. GRADE: A-
Key Tracks: “Modern Act” / “Things Are Right With You” / “Up to the Surface”
Japandroids – Near to the Wild Heart of Life (ANTI-/Epitaph)
It’s been five years since this Vancouver duo released Celebration Rock — a joyous album that turned the anxieties of turning 30 into a festive remembrance of being 20 (“We’re drinking / And we’re still smoking!”). So why didn’t I miss them during their sojourn as much as I would have thought? Because nostalgia doesn’t impress me as much as it does bandleader Brian King, and reminiscing only means so much for the rest of us too busy living. So credit them for having the audacity to alter the formula and the guts to halt the little forward momentum they had left. Where treble-heavy guitars once boosted their garage-band criteria, here they soften the rough edges and clean up their sound with old fashion production thanks to a bigger budget. What King sacrifices in immediacy he makes up with diversification, injecting acoustic guitars where he sees fit and experimenting with synths as expansive as the Canadian tundra. Not everything clicks. The seven minute epic “Arc of Bar” aims for “Won’t Get Fooled Again” but instead recalls “Dead or Alive.” But notice how the smaller moments shine through the bombast, especially how well King articulates his weariness of the very road on which he earns a living. Makes you ponder how much they dig their day job. GRADE: A-
Key Tracks: “Near to the Wild Heart of Life” / “Midnight to Morning” / “North South East West”