Feature: Cloud Nothings at Outland Live

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From the April 4, 2012 edition

“I thought! I would! Be more! Than this!”

The piercing refrain lays Dylan Baldi’s guts on the table. Like most of the music recorded by iconic studio engineer Steve Albini, it’s not pretty.

Throughout Cloud Nothings’ razor-sharp second LP “Attack on Memory,” especially in its marathon nine-minute centerpiece “Wasted Days,” we find Cleveland’s preternaturally gifted college dropout helpless and hopeless, lost in a relentless tumble of guitars and drums, wondering if he squandered some of his best years chasing a dead-end rock ’n’ roll dream.

Hearing Baldi bleat that mantra with increasing agitation is jarring — one, because this band is known for effervescent power-pop, not dejected aggression rock; two, because “Attack on Memory” follows two years of slow, steady ascent through the rock underground. Most bands don’t get a fraction of the attention Baldi has received since he uploaded his fuzz-laden home recordings to MySpace in late 2009. Almost instantly he formed a band, signed a record deal and toured relentlessly.

To an outsider, he seemed to be living the dream. Life was less glamorous on the inside.

“We were just making no money and going on long tours and coming home with like 100 bucks. You can’t live on that, obviously,” Baldi said over the phone last month. “I was just hoping that with this record we would be able to do a little more — you know, headline our own shows, take things up another level. Something a little more real.”

Considering the hosannas raining down on “Attack on Memory” — and more importantly, the sold-out crowds now flocking to Cloud Nothings concerts — Baldi seems to have vented his frustrations just in time to see them evaporate. The band that headlines Outland this Saturday is heralded by the national music press as six-string saviors, the men credited (along with The Men) with bringing guitars back to a genre dominated by samples, synthesizers and software.

Baldi balks at such talk, but he is stoked about a resurgence of guitar-driven indie rock.

“That’s really the bread and butter of the music that I like,” Baldi said. “I don’t listen to much outside of that, honestly.”

As for Baldi’s personal artistic trajectory, don’t expect him to veer back toward power-pop now that his dreams are coming true. His fascination with art-punk bands like The Wipers, evident throughout “Attack on Memory,” is yielding even longer, stranger songs for the follow-up.

“There’s still a pop sensibility to them, but they’re kind of meandering,” Baldi said.

His muse might be restless, but his sudden success has him much more at peace with Cloud Nothings’ place in the world.

“We kind of had that grooming period over the last two years,” Baldi said. “People knew who we were, but it wasn’t like everyone was talking about us, like we were the next big thing. So we kind of had the best of both worlds, honestly, where people were giving us the time to do what we needed to do and still putting out our records and letting us grow as a band.”

Visit the Sensory Overload blog at ColumbusAlive.com to read the full Q&A with Dylan Baldi.

Gemma Harris photo