As ever, Cloud Nothings continue to straddle the lines of fuzzed-out indie rock, pop-punk and howling noise pop on their fourth album, Life Without Sound. This latest offering, however, sees the band—helmed by Dylan Baldi—opt for a brisk, tight pace over their previously indulgent track lengths. On top of that, the songs themselves are crisper, giving relatively clean melodies their due but not at the expense of Jayson Gerycz’s driving drums. It makes for an immensely approachable album that doesn’t trade Cloud Nothings’ essence for that broader appeal.

It seems fitting that the three-year silence since Here and Nowhere Else is broken with the opening track “Up to the Surface.” Beginning with a plaintive piano line and slowly building guitar from Baldi, the track quickly bursts into a churning flurry of guitars and thumping drums as Baldi sings “I knew peace in the terror of the mind.” At other times on the album, Baldi devolves into desperate screams; this performance is restrained, without losing any of its emotional heft. Bookending the album, “Up to the Surface” is matched by “Realize My Fate,” a slow, purposeful track that sees Baldi giving an incredibly deliberate vocal performance—and one that does end in restrained wails, if that’s not too much of a contradiction for you.

Those somewhat staid tracks are balanced by ferocious and relentless punk offerings like “Things Are Right with You,” “Internal World” and “Modern Act.” On the former, Baldi and newly added lead guitarist Chris Brown both unleash at breakneck speed, Baldi spitting lyrics and Brown making his guitar squeal. Several tracks on this album see Baldi musing on isolation and masking your true self from others. “Internal World” is perfectly blunt: “You have a face for everyone/ You have a face for me.” On “Things Are Right with You,” that comes through in the lyrics “No use in life without sound/ Patiently waiting alone…Saw what I’d done and who I’d be/ I was uncomfortable with me” and repeated urgings to “feel right, feel lighter,” as if he’s willing himself toward self-love. All of this culminates in “Modern Act”’s desperation: “I want a life, that’s all I need lately/ I am alive but all alone.”

The production on standout tracks here emphasizes clean guitar riffs and strong percussion that makes a huge impact but doesn’t overpower any other instruments. “Enter Entirely” draws from ‘90’s influences like lo-fi rock and grunge, with its plodding guitar whose chorus breakdown is exceedingly satisfying. Once again, Baldi opts for pointed delivery, which helps to shift focus even more on the highlighted guitar work. Similarly, “Sight Unseen” is a bright rock effort that balances melody and rough-hewn guitars. Baldi’s upbeat vocals work well with the double-time drums. What makes these songs dynamic is the band’s knack for transitioning from raw squelching rock to minor key contemplative moments all within the same track.

Life Without Sound is a stellar effort, but its lesser moments come when Cloud Nothings veer into aggressive and unhinged hardcore. “Darkened Rings” and “Strange Year” are fuzzed-out screamo bashers that are more akin to the likes of Attack on Memory but sound overly harsh against the predominantly bright first half of the album. Yet even if those tracks are harsher, they add essential variety and range to Life Without Sound.

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