While most of those qualities are not foreign to the band — before they took a deep dive into the murk on Attack on Memory, Baldi was known for knocking out jaunty, lo-fi power pop confections — Baldi's always been quick to dismiss his vocals and lyrics as little more than window dressing to the band's more ambitious sonic totems. Here, he appears to have changed his tune, offering words that reflect a sunnier disposition, as on opener "Up to the Surface." Yet a darkness remains, creeping in the margins that the singer-guitarist seems barely able to keep at bay. Then again, it could all be a goof: "Watching all of the hours with a bottle of wine," he sings over a sloppy latter-day Stones riff before offering the mea culpa, "what a line."
The cleaned up sound does wonders for Baldi's songwriting, always his strength yet still often overlooked. Producer John Goodmanson (Sleater-Kinney, Los Campesinos) shines some much deserved light on the small nuances that make Cloud Nothings' music so intriguing, giving a proper, polished showcase to some of the band's most hook-filled material to date.
For everything gained, however, there is something lost, and here it's the tension built on older songs like "Wasted Days" or "Pattern Walks"; they made the release of Baldi's less taut numbers feel like an earned respite On Life Without Sound, only "Realize My Fate" comes close to offering that exchange, and it's the record's final number, denying fans the sense of catharsis we've come to expect from the band.
Still, that shouldn't dissuade fans — if you dig Baldi's work, this is as fine a collection as any in the Cloud Nothings discography. (Carpark)