Cloud Nothings keeps the music rolling as the world slows

Unable to tour, singer/guitarist Dylan Baldi penned a song a day throughout the ongoing pandemic

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Cloud Nothings

When the pandemic hit and the concert industry all but shut down in March of 2020, Cloud Nothings singer and guitarist Dylan Baldi kept right on working, writing a song a day because he had no real backup plan beyond keeping the music going.

“We kind of had to, because we’ve made the band into a full-time job the last eight or nine years,” said Baldi, who will join his bandmates in concert at Ace of Cups tonight (Tuesday, Aug. 24). “Touring was the big thing, where we made any money at all, so it was like, ‘Well, what are we going to do? Let’s try releasing tons of records and working on things all of the time.’ And it doesn’t totally replace touring, but it has gotten us through this.”

Prior to the arrival of COVID-19, Cloud Nothings recorded a new album, The Shadow I Remember, which found the musicians again teaming with Steve Albini, who engineered the band’s breakthrough third LP, Attack on Memory, from 2011. But in the year that the album sat in the can prior to its February 2021 release, a stretch that normally would have been spent on the road, the group continued to write, releasing a four-song EP digitally each month, in addition to the full-length The Black Hole Understands. That quieter (at least by Cloud Nothing standards), more melodic LP arose as a collaboration between Baldi, who now lives in Philadelphia, and Cleveland-based drummer Jayson Gerycz, with the pair exchanging tracks via email. (Gerycz has also recently teamed with Columbus musicians Jen Powers and Mathew Rolin for a pair of instrumental albums under the Gerycz/Powers/Rolin banner; Powers/Rolin Duo opens tonight’s show at Ace.)

“There’s something about the act of us playing together as a band that makes the songs a little rougher around the edges, and when we’re loud, I yell a little louder, too,” Baldi said. “But we weren’t together [during the pandemic], so I was making these quiet songs alone, and everything took on a much lighter, more melodic feel. I was in my apartment, and I didn’t want to yell at my neighbor’s wall, so everything just naturally got quieter.”

The pandemic also impacted the singer’s lyrical approach, with tracks appearing to sway between despondence (“The Mess Is Permanent”) and a faint hope that someday there might actually be light at the end of the tunnel. “Life won’t always be this way,” Baldi sings on “The Sound of Everyone," though that hope has dimmed recently, with Baldi's Philadelphia home recently reinstituting an indoor mask mandate regardless of vaccination status.

“Every day just sort of felt endless, and to an extent it still does,” said Baldi, who compared the practice of writing a song a day during a time when society largely stopped with a slow descent into madness, the tracks gradually degrading along with his state of mind. “Quite literally, the lyrics devolved into total nonsense by the end of this project where we put out a record a month. At first, I was writing about things I had done recently, but then you run out of things. What did I do today? Well, I walked the dog, so I guess I have to write a song about how I walked the dog because that’s all I did today. … And it reached a point where I wasn’t finding some deep meaning in writing a song about going to Ikea.”

More recently, Baldi revisited the entire body of work completed by Cloud Nothings since the onset of the pandemic, culling an album’s worth of the best material for a future release, though even these more intensive listening sessions didn't help him fully process the exercise.

“It was weird to listen to all the songs and remember the specific point when these things were happening,” Baldi said. “It’s been a very prolific writing stretch, and it’s interesting to see the progression from [the songs on The Shadow I Remember] to the most recent song we put on our Bandcamp subscription, because they’re not that different, but there has been a slight change. I don’t know. It’s always hard for me to really quantify these things until a few years down the road.”