Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

  • SoundStage! InSight - Audio Research Reference 160M Amplifier (February 2019)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Livio Cucuzza on Audio Research's Industrial Design (November 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Audio Research Past, Present, and Future (October 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - KEF's New R Series for 2018 (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio Moon 390 Digital/Analog Preamplifier and Streamer (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - EISA 2018-2019 Awards Introduction (August 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio's $118,888 Moon 888 Mono Amplifiers (June 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Totem's Tribe Tower (May 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion's Three Newest Argon Loudspeakers (April 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Making the Hegel Mohican CD Player (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Estelon Lynx Wireless Intelligent Loudspeaker (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh's Five New Solid-State Integrated Amplifiers (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Amphion's Krypton Loudspeaker (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Anthem STR Preamplifier and Power Amplifier (December 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh Laboratory MA252 Integrated Amplifier (November 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Hegel H90 and H190 Integrated Amplifiers (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - How Hegel's SoundEngine Works (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight  - Estelon History and YB and Extreme Loudspeakers (September 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - What Makes Hegel Different? (August 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Estelon Extreme Legacy Edition Loudspeaker (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion Overview and Technologies (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! Insight - Totem Acoustic Signature One Loudspeaker (June 2017)
  • SoundStage! Encore - The Cowboy Junkies'
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Anthem's STR Integrated Amplifier (May 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Paradigm's Perforated Phase Alignment (PPA) Lenses (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Paradigm's Persona 9H Loudspeaker (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Contrasts: Dynaudio's Contour and Focus XD Speaker Lines (February 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - New Technologies in MartinLogan's Masterpiece Series
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Dynaudio/Volkswagen Car Audio (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Gryphon Philosophy and the Kodo and Mojo S Speakers (January 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- What's a Tonmeister? (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - AxiomAir N3 Wireless Speaker System (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 90 (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Gryphon Diablo 120 Integrated Amplifier (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Dynaudio History and Driver Technology (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - The Story How Gryphon Began (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Devialet History, ADH Technology, and Expert 1000 Pro (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Devialet's Phantom Loudspeakers (August 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh Home Theater and Streaming Audio (July 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh MC275 Stereo Amplifier (June 2016)

Carpark CAK115
Format: CD

Musical Performance

Sound Quality

Overall Enjoyment

Cloud Nothings is a young, guitar-based indie-rock band -- a category that includes Japandroids, Beach Slang, and Titus Andronicus, among others. Dylan Baldi, the band’s leader and lead singer, while studying at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio, on weekends began recording his songs in his parents’ basement in nearby Westlake. He played all the instruments on Turning On, the Cloud Nothings’ debut, a tuneful, lo-fi album in the manner of fellow Ohioans Guided by Voices.

Turning On (2010) consisted of the eight-song EP of that title released the year before, plus five singles. Baldi also played all the instruments on the follow-up, Cloud Nothings (2011), a full-length album. Fast punk, AM-friendly melodies, and the occasional foray into noise experiments added up to a swiftly moving, enjoyable disc. Attack on Memory (2012) was Cloud Nothings’ first album as an actual band -- they’d already been touring. Baldi’s songs sounded even better and more fully developed, and did on the next album as well: Here and Nowhere Else (2014).

Life Without Sound further refines their sound, but Cloud Nothings retain their punk-rock heart even as their music becomes more sophisticated. “Up to the Surface” builds in drama and dynamics with the help of a catchy piano melody, to which the guitars add layers of sound. TJ Duke’s bass provides a strong, thick foundation, and Chris Brown’s lead-guitar lines become more urgent as the song builds and the volume rises.

Life Without Sound

Baldi’s songs have the growling energy of the best guitar rock, and a solid feel for melody that make, say, “Things Are Right with You” lodge in the memory. The song’s simple, upbeat chorus of “Feel right, feel lighter” is punched up by a killer guitar riff, and Brown’s brief, bright-toned solo and ringing lines carry the tune along.

“Enter Entirely” is built on a familiar chord progression that echoes any number of garage-band songs, but the chorus mixes things up with a series of sharp, slashing chords, Duke’s bass adding a touch of finesse. The infectious melody of “Modern Act” floats on shimmering open chords, and Baldi sings with spirit and conviction: “I am alive, but all alone.” In the past, Cloud Nothings sang about the angst of youth. Now Baldi’s looking at the difficulties of adulthood, and writing about them with a poetic depth.

Listening to past Cloud Nothings albums, I sometimes feared that Baldi’s occasional screaming would permanently injure his throat. But only this album’s closing tracks, “Strange Year” and “Realize My Fate,” get that noisy and intense. Both feel tacked on, as if Baldi wanted to step back from an album that otherwise seems a step forward.

Baldi writes great personal songs, and Cloud Nothings know how much power loud guitars, bass, and drums can generate -- in fact, Jason Gerycz’s powerful, fluid drumming gives each track its heartbeat and drive. John Goodmanson’s production is appropriately dense for the loud, distorted guitars, but vibrant enough for me to hear what’s going on in these arrangements. Next time around, a bit more bass snap would liven things up even more.

As I listened to Life Without Sound, and to recent albums by the other groups mentioned in this review’s first sentence, I kept thinking that all of them could have been released 20 or even 30 years ago. The music is heartfelt and, at its best, memorable and well crafted. With bands like these, rock’n’roll is in good hands. Maybe, in time, those hands will push the music forward again.

. . . Joseph Taylor