words by sammy maine
photos by jesse lirola
I believe in something bigger
But what I can’t articulate
I find it hard to realize my fate
Dylan Baldi is figuring out how to be okay with uncertainty. After several LPs, Cloud Nothings’ Life Without Sound marks a shift in Baldi’s approach to songwriting; there’s a vulnerability that, although explored on previous releases, was yet to be embraced so openly. It’s an album that sees the frontman navigate the hazy surroundings of his mid-20s, exploring notions of home, of nostalgic regret and of being okay with the choices you’ve made.
No home in the city
or here on land.
Cold eyes all around me
and where I stand
“I feel like the world is a very uncertain place and every time you go outside, something crazy could happen,” Baldi explains. “Life Without Sound is about coming to terms with that and just trying to get to a place where you’re okay with that; where you realise that you’re not going to be able to change that.” Although Baldi describes himself as a person that pretty much lives in the present, the record evokes a sentimentality that pushes his lyricism front-and-centre. It produces a misty-eyed retrospection that brings comfort to those of us feeling like we’re fumbling through life and marks an evolutionary undertaking from a songwriter who used to sing the first thing that popped into his head.
“Writing lyrics kind of just freaks me out because I don’t know… singing is a very personal thing, I guess,” he continues. “I can listen to myself play guitar and that’s cool – that could be anyone playing – but singing is very clear, like ‘that’s me’. It freaks me out to have to write lyrics. So the last couple of records I would do it very last minute and not even think about it just because I didn’t want to think about it.”
“So with this one, I realised that basically I care about about other people’s lyrics and if I just kept making stuff that I didn’t care about that’s kind of stupid. I tried to actually make a point to write the stuff and revise it instead of just going in with a first draft of things.” Baldi insists that he doesn’t feel his previous lyrics were bad necessarily but instead wanted to focus on making them more transparent for Life Without Sound. “It was more about nailing down the specific catharsis I guess,” he says. “My previous lyrics just haven’t been direct in the way that maybe I’ve wanted them to be or I think they should be. Especially with the way the songs sound on Life Without Sound, I think that these kind of lyrics directly serve them better.”
The years between Here and Nowehere Else and Life Without Sound saw Baldi veer away from his native Cleveland, moving to Paris for a brief time before staying in Western Massachusetts. “It was pretty isolated out there,” Baldi explains of his time in Western Massachusetts. “It feels like you’re really in the middle of the woods or something and I liked that a lot. I’d just ride my bike everywhere and go on long hikes all the time.” While he enjoyed the quiet surroundings, Baldi soon found himself back in Cleveland and back with the Cloud Nothings members, moving in with drummer Jayson Gerycz.
His time away invested a new energy in the band, as Baldi describes Life Without Sound as “what we’re supposed to be doing.” “Then going through and rehearsing the old songs, you feel like a cover band or something,” he laughs. “I like the new stuff though because it does sometimes feel like a different band. The fun part is nailing that down and trying to figure out how to make it not sound so different and how it can fit along with the progression of the records.”
One constant throughout each LP has been the cover art. Each presents a photo taken by Baldi and as he explains, each image marks the point in time in which he began to think about the record itself. “The new one is a picture from Jamaica, from a trip I took there,” he says. “I stayed in this little house on a beach, that image was my view every morning. I’d look outside and that is what I saw, which is pretty cool.”
“So I started thinking about Life Without Sound on this trip and I had all this stuff that I was kind of working on that was just constantly in my head while I was riding my bike around Jamaica. That was just the nicest photo I took on the trip and I like water, so I wanted there to be water in the image.”
With such precision in its lyrical execution and in its physical presentation, it’s hard to relate to Baldi, albeit jokingly, describing Cloud Nothings and Life Without Sound as “spreading his depressed world view.” That of course, brings up current US politics and although Baldi doesn’t think that a world run by Trump has changed the way he makes and spreads his art, he feels that it’s giving voice to others than may not have been heard in the past. “There’s a lot of people like me in the world so the things I think and say have gotten said plenty of times on this grand, mainstream scale,” he continues. “So, I do like and appreciate that people are paying more attention to groups of people who may have been ignored or haven’t been attention to as much in the past.”
Despite his humble utterances, Life Without Sound is a record that solidifies Cloud Nothings as a band that are able to grow and reshape without losing their initial magic; it’s full of guts and grit but produces an unguarded poignancy that tries to navigate the differences in our internal fantasy and our inescapable reality. Or as Baldi jokingly puts it, “it’s basically my Live Journal diary; every record is a new entry.”
‘Life Without Sound’ is out now, via Carpark Records