Attack on Memory
By Andrew Hall | 1 February 2012
Attack on Memory, Dylan Baldi’s first album recorded with a full band, is an altogether different experience altogether from 2010’s Turning On and last year’s Cloud Nothings. Whereas both of those records featured Baldi on all instruments as he tore through fast, hook-laden power-pop numbers, his newest record is a snarling, vicious thing on which this four-piece practically revels in whatever wounds prompted this fractured music, tears through its songs with a ferocity that renders them gloriously out of step with former tourmates like Braids and Toro Y Moi, and yields one of the first killer records of 2012 in the process.
That Attack on Memory feels nothing like its predecessors is immediately apparent from the first notes of “No Future / No Past,” a track that begins not with a guitar lead from nowhere but a crescendo building from individual notes on a piano, revealing Baldi’s voice, not quite in key but certainly feeling something, leading to a climax in which he screams the song’s title repeatedly. He’s a songwriter suddenly willing to take time to get to an idea if the journey proves more effective than beating his listener over the head with it, and the intense, chaotic passages that he now uses as connective tissue make a compelling case for his methods. “Wasted Days,” the longest song here, gets to a logical conclusion, then lets a menacing one-note lead build into something dense and layered, creating walls of delays, reverb, and noise that erupt into a percussion-heavy moment that doesn’t fly off the rails as much as it stabilizes, a disarming and striking thing to do given how quickly it comes in the album’s sequence.
Yet Baldi’s power-pop instincts don’t go completely buried in favor of emo revivalism. “Fall In” sports a gentle chorus bolstered by pummeling drum work in between furious verses, and the utterly concise, relentlessly approachable “Stay Useless”—the best song Baldi has written to date and a remarkable airing of grievances concerning the inevitable, all-consuming frustration brought on by stasis—wouldn’t have stood out as much as it does here on one of his earlier records and benefits greatly from Steve Albini’s engineering work.
Despite his philosophical opposition to taking credit for anything resembling production (and his likely disinterest in the band he was recording, as he’s recorded a lot of bands), Albini’s treatments here turn what was a nonexistent rhythm section into something killer, making huge amounts of space for drummer Jayson Gerycz’s contributions to these songs, which in turn makes them hit much harder and more efficiently, and the destructive workouts in the album’s second half, like “No Sentiment,” benefit hugely from their dynamics, from the impact every snare and cymbal hit can make when they’re given so much room to clobber. By the time the seemingly Superchunk-inspired “Cut You” closes the record, Baldi’s anger hasn’t been sated, though he’s at least come to conclusions: “I miss you ‘cause I like damage, I need something I can hurt,” he sings in its chorus, not so much a victim as simply a jilted participant, trying to better understand a situation alluded to at best over the course of this record.
Here, Baldi manages to find a comfortable place in between the all-potential pleasure-all-the-time approach of his first two records and the potential for all-out sad dude sonic violence, delivering a criticism of and break-up message to computer music by jettisoning every aspect of his work that could possibly be labeled as such. As a consequence, he and his band have produced something that manages to transcend its origins and best its back catalog while pulling off a 180 degree turn, something few young musicians manage to pull off in as few moves as they have.