Posted on December 29th, 2009 (5:17 pm) by Tim Gilman

With 2009 behind us, we can safely say that the past year in music will be remembered as the year tossed-off, lo-fi production regained prominence. Bands like Girls, Real Estate and Wavves aped the 'who cares?' nature of forefathers Pavement and Guided By Voices, oozing cool and indifference and gaining large amounts of e-love in the process. This recent lo-fi resurgence continues with Cloud Nothings, a band already receiving blog buzz despite only playing their first show in early December. On their debut Turning On, you get both the simple, catchy pop and the intensely lo-fi production that music fans have come to expect from so many bands formed within the past couple years.

So maybe Turning On isn't the most original album of 2009. However, despite traveling familiar musical terrain, there's a lot to love about the album, as well as main band member Dylan (various blog posts about the band as well as the band's myspace all fail to reveal a surname). Despite most of the album's obscured singing (thanks again to the shoddy production), there is a discernible line that sticks out in opening track “Can't Stay Awake”: “I need my picture in a magazine/So I know that you will talk to me,” paints Cloud Nothings as the likable underdog starving for recognition – a position that, for anyone who has at one time felt like they've never been good enough for someone else, is easy to commiserate with. “Hey Cool Kid” continues the lyrical trend with its rather telling title, using the 'cool kids' of elementary and middle school as a metaphor for over-confident adults that leave contemplative, slightly unmotivated types in the dust.

If the lyrical musings don't convince you that Cloud Nothings are on your side, then the album's music will change your mind. Most songs on the album have distinguishing features that lead themselves to uncontrollable head bobbing. One song (“Whaddya Wanna Know”) even consists of a chorus sung partly in a totally unexpected-yet-awesome falsetto, contributing even more to the song's (and album's) carefree feel. Most importantly, the band simply sounds like they really, really enjoy playing music and are thrilled at having the opportunity to release original tunes for others to listen to. Songs like “Can't Stay Awake” and “Old Street” both end with all instruments playing at full speed, resulting in some scrawling guitar and drums that occasionally get off the beat. The misplayed beats are rather obvious and can be cringe-inducing when they occur, but, thanks to the overall lo-fi quality of the album, the mistakes fit right into the album's aesthetic and come off as endearing, a result of simple over-exuberance and affinity for music rather than musical ineptitude.

This over-exuberance and affinity for music (as well as eagerness to have others hear their own) may also be the reason why Cloud Nothings have released such a short album. Turning On only consists of eight tracks, the sum of which clocks in at less than half-an-hour total. However, the short length actually benefits the band since the album reaches its conclusion well before it can outwear its welcome (unless, of course, you're allergic to innocuous indie rock). Once the short album ends, you're left feeling refreshed, recharged, and hungry for more from the band. It's almost like a nice, quick pick-me-up to put a little spring in your step (which may be needed with the current onset of winter and cold weather) and help you face the day in a more positive light.

The album also lends itself well to travel (which seems appropriate since it's available on cassette – the medium traditionally most associated with driving - as well as CD). Similar to 90s indie rock touchstones Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain and American Water, it's hard to listen to Turning On in a bedroom or walking down the street without imagining yourself behind the wheel of an old four-door sedan, driving down a winding, sparsely-traveled road with the summer sun beating down on the car, making the heat unbearable. The fact that the album can evoke such a feeling is commendable in itself. Several of the songs on Cloud Nothings have potential to be future road trip staples. The simple chorus of album opener “Can't Stay Awake” is immediately gripping and lends itself well to driver vs. passenger shouting matches. “Hey Cool Kid” also gains instant sing-along status with constantly alternating verses and choruses (four verses and three chorus repetitions in little over three minutes). The chorus' “Oh, you're such a cool kid” hook promises to stay in your head for days and days.

In making this album, the Cloud Nothings thought process can accurately be summarized as such: Create a set of no-frills pop songs, record them in less-than-optimal conditions, and add a little extra love to the whole batch. The result is Turning On, one of 2009's best records you've never heard. While it might not be the most original album in recent memory, that fact hardly matters when the album's songs are so catchy and memorable. A few spins will recall fond memories and (perhaps) inspire the creation of future ones.

Track List:
1.Can't Stay Awake (1:55)
2.Old Street (2:26)
3.You Are Opening (3:56)
4.Turning On (3:41)
5.Hey Cool Kid (3:15)
6.Water Turns Back (4:37)
7.Whaddya Wanna Know (2:57)
8.Real Thing (3:37)

Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

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