In certain circles of underground rock, Cloud Nothings‘ Attack On Memory was the album that changed everything. About two years earlier, band leader Dylan Baldi released some noise pop home recordings under the name Cloud Nothings, which quickly stirred up buzz at the height of the lo-fi boom, and it caused the Cleveland resident to put together a band after being asked to fly to Brooklyn and open for Woods and Real Estate at Market Hotel. Cloud Nothings quickly signed to Carpark and put out an expanded edition of their debut EP Turning On, followed by their self-titled debut album in 2011, but the lo-fi boom wasn’t built to last and Cloud Nothings knew this. Though so many solo indie rock projects with hired bands remain technically solo projects forever, Cloud Nothings took their unlikely formation as a chance to really become a band, a four-headed beast anchored by Jayson Gerycz’s beastly drumming and TJ Duke’s sturdy basslines with Dylan’s inventive singing, songwriting, and guitar playing leading the way. (And at the time, they had guitarist Joe Boyer, who was later replaced by Chris Brown.)
In hindsight, you can hear moments on Cloud Nothings’ self-titled LP that suggest they wanted to break away from the lo-fi home recordings that caused the hype machine to latch onto them, but they didn’t make a clear break until 2012’s Attack On Memory, which turns 10 today. They took a clear interest in post-hardcore, noise rock, and (gasp!) emo, they hit the studio with Steve Albini, and they came out with a heavy rock record. There’s screaming! Riffs! A lengthy noise jam! Dylan’s knack for sugar-coated choruses still came through (and was stronger than ever) on songs like “Fall In” and “Stay Useless,” but this sounded way more like something that could’ve come out on Vagrant in the ’90s than what you would’ve expected from Carpark in the early 2010s. And at a time before any major music publication had ever published the words “emo revival,” Attack On Memory was received as one of the most acclaimed records of the year and it made Cloud Nothings bigger and more respected than ever. There were other indie rock-approved punk bands before Cloud Nothings (Fucked Up, Titus Andronicus), but Attack On Memory veered way closer to the E-word than anything the indie rock music press was touching at the time. There are a lot of factors that played into emo gaining critical approval throughout the 2010s, but the way I see it, Attack On Memory was the big bang.
And it’s not just that the album opened so many doors; it’s also that the album is truly one of the best of its kind. At the end of the 2010s, we named it one of the 100 best albums of the decade (and the fourth best punk or emo album of the decade), and here’s what we said about it then:
Attack On Memory felt like the moment when it became overwhelmingly clear that a large number of indie rock fans and critics were craving a hard-hitting, cathartic record like this. Cloud Nothings emerged out of the buzzed-about lo-fi boom of the late ’00s, but with Attack On Memory, they ditched all of their trendy traits and came out with the best and most widely-loved record of their career. It ditched the lo-fi indie pop of their early work in favor of abrasive post-hardcore, and it tied together elements of various ’90s rock bands — from Nirvana to Sonic Youth to Weezer to Sunny Day Real Estate — in a way that felt both like the nostalgia dose you didn’t know you needed and the freshest new rock record around. They made it with Steve Albini, whose raw, bare-bones style and killer snare sound was the perfect fit for a record that bounced seamlessly between punchy hooks (“Fall In,” “Stay Useless”), entrancing noise rock (“Wasted Days”), dark post-hardcore (“No Future/No Past”), angst-ridden grunge (“No Sentiment”), and more. It helped bring all of this music back into the indie rock zeitgeist, but Attack On Memory doesn’t succeed just because it helped kickstart a sea change within the genre. It holds up today as one of the most brilliant, impassioned, and endlessly listenable rock records released this decade.
Happy 10th anniversary to this game-changing album that hasn’t aged one bit. Stream it below for the occasion, and catch Cloud Nothings on tour this year with PUP, one of the many great punk bands who barged through the doors Attack On Memory helped open.