Last year, when Avi Buffalo released their debut album to some acclaim, the major focal point of criticism revolved around songwriter Avi Zahner-Isenberg’s age. People have a weird fixation on age and art, and while it makes sense that music is more impressive when it seems prodigious, are we to forgive them of more than more experienced artists? If Avi Buffalo is any indicator, than the answer would seem to be yes.
Cloud Nothings, the eponymous debut from the project of Dylan Baldi, is the work of another young mind who seems gifted beyond his years. He also seems just as emotionally mature as Avi Buffalo’s main man, which doesn’t necessarily mean as many cringe-worthy lyrics about bacon, but can make listeners born before 1990 feel every bit their age. But, yeah, Cloud Nothings are ultimately another case of youth being easier to forgive for musical missteps. The album comes across as warm, fun, and endearing. And, whatever overtly youthful elements takeover, they end up working to the album’s benefit and not its detriment.
While Cloud Nothings might come across as Green Day or NoFX spawns, in reality, Baldi and those 90’s pop-punk cornerstones probably just have the same influences: Black Flag, Replacements, Minutemen, Descendants. You know, the good stuff. But Baldi doesn’t seem to have the aggression in him to be a full-blown punk, or even a full-blown post-punk. “Not Important” sustains a melodically angry assault for nearly two minutes but soon lets it slip away into a harmonizing conclusion that takes away some of the song’s power. But it makes up for it in depth. Yeah, the name Wavves actually comes to mind, but with a little more soul (and a little less lols).
Songs like “Nothing’s Wrong” and single “Understand It All” may play to the lighter side of hardcore, but Jay Reatard would be jealous if he were alive to hear the melodies that Baldi unleashes with little noticeable effort. But more important than the punk-ethos and any proving-themselves that needs to be done is when they shed all resemblance to pre-conceived genre notions. “Forget You All The Time,” is a heartbreaker in that it doesn’t seem to even be trying to tug at your emotions, the likely result of the flippancy of youth.
In fact, it is in the brutal honesty of the lyrics throughout that the album rounds out its appeal. Lines like “I don’t understand love, I don’t understand at all,” couldn’t be simpler or more direct, but, rather, sound like an epiphany from his young soul. And most of the songs deal with the basics of teen lust and romance with little sugar-coating. Case in point: “I’m alright, I just forget you all the time.” Ouch.
And, the listener ends up caring, which for a cold-hearted, son-of-a-bitch like me is really saying something. We not only care about what Baldi has to say, we care about what he is going to say next. And that is quite an accomplishment indeed. You know, for a teenager.