Cloud Nothings

I’ve been struggling all year to find some albums to enjoy.
I don’t mean having a best of 2012 list to show-off with friends on Facebook. I have grown old enough to not care of keeping update with the hype.
I mean music I want to put on my CD player, sit on the sofa to find myself enjoying it and discovering new insights into the songs beyond the first couple of listening.

Attack On Memory is one of these albums. One of the few I bought on CD that, after months, still sits on the top of the hi-fi and I often slip in the CD reader for my pleasure.
I can’t mention more than a handle in such a position. Japandroids for sure, First Aid Kit been there for a while too, Jack White and Mark Lanegan are back on my alphabetically ordered shelves.
Not a lot of good music emerged from under the layers of electropop which is blossoming everywhere in northern Europe despite the cold summer.

It is also my fault. I have been distracted by other things including my other photographic side. I put a lot of work on my documentary project on Burma’s path towards democracy in the last months, from travelling there to post-editing the images and writing the texts for what will soon be another of my self-published photo books.

I dedicate less time to discover new music. Spotify free account is now limited to a few monthly hours. They end quick, surely much before the end of the month. It doesn’t help.

Most important I have been put down by the attempts I made to listen the most hyped and reviewed acts. The only band who made me curious and I am really waiting for a new album is Savages. The only album of a new musician I have really enjoyed is Jonathan Wilson.

I let my familiar sound embrace me: Tindersticks, Dirty Three. I enjoyed the loud comeback of Refused and Sunn O))). Despite my situation is not as depressive as it was during 2007 when I spent the whole year listening mainly to acoustic rural blues, I perceive I am becoming more selective.

Attack On Memory is Cloud Nothings finest to date. I am a fan of Steve Albini productions since the early nineties but it would be lazy and disrespectful to praise Albini for the success of the album.
As Japandroids’ Celebration Rock, Attack On Memory runs just over half hour and contains ‘only’ 8 songs. I can’t blame them. After all with most people downloading and leaking music for free how could we blame the bands for recording short albums and saving some studio bills?
Those days of the 90s when CDs was leading the market and bands were forced to pack all the 74 minutes they could hold are long gone. Thankfully.
There have been more fillers in the CD boom in the 90s than in the rest of recorded music history. Not mentioning the evil habit of ghost songs.

Today looks more as it was in the 70s minus the long hair. The length of albums is set by the capacity of a vinyl. Vinyl doesn’t lead the market sale but never died. 12” and even 7” are back on fashion and most if not all new records would fill the old A and B side.
Most important it is the philosophy behind that has survived. Quality over quantity is the rule.
Less overproduction, more ‘low budget’ approach.
Curiously hi-tech, digital and electronics boom helps lo-fi and analogic system.

I don’t know whether Steve Albini still finds his favourite tapes or he has found a way to work on the cursors to get his characteristic ‘Rid of Me’ scratchy sound out of digital equipments. Fact is Attack on Memory is as coarse as the landmark sound on the records that made him famous in the 90s.

The opening track, the best, is a statement from the title: No Future/No Past but in reality musically differs from what follows. The album finds its peak in the next 9 minutes for Wasted Days’ guitar assault. If only for these two, the CD is worth buying.
The quality of the other songs stay high throughout and a surprisingly variety of songs styles, with particular attention to lyrics (No Sentiments) keep the album well above 2012 average.

When the news of Cloud Nothings playing a set at the tiny Corsica Studios in London lands on some of my social networks (after I missed the Cargo and Shepherds Bush dates earlier in the year) I am on a mission to get into it despite I will have to travel all the way from Cambridge to Elephant and Castle few hours before I am off for holidays.

Dylan Baldi arrives to be greeted by a strong fanbase and utters something I can’t really grasp but does not sound promising. Either he’s drunk or sick, I don’t know, but his is a complaint. I forget it, concentrate on photos and music and don’t put much attention. The twin guitars attacks are quick to saturate the room and my ears.

I understand the problem has something to do with Baldi’s voice. Surely not something I grasp from the singing. This sort of small club live shows are not the place you go to contemplate lyrics of check if a singer is in tune. This si the concert to let yourself float on a sea of guitars. Which is what goes on in a pretty splendid way for about half hour.

With the drummer on fire as Dylan’s throat, the set is very centred on instrumentals jams that touches any facet music has recorded in the last 20 years from post-rock to noise.
Cloud Nothings wall of sound is impressive and I enjoy it so much that I am not concerned at all by the lack of proper vocals. If this will give us more music and less words, well, bargain!

Instead just half hour into the set, at the end of another long interlude, Dylan Baldi calls it a day, apologize and leaves. The band follows. The fans understand and don’t complain too much.

I just wrote I prefer quality over quantity, and I should apply the rule to live music too but I must admit leave the studios fairly disappointed.
Disappointed not because the gig was disappointing but because it was fabulous. It is never nice when fables end.

Cloud Nothings resumed touring and I am lined up and looking forward for their Shepherds Bush date back in London in November, in the meanwhile there’s a lot to follow online here [website][facebook][tumblr][twitter][spotify]


Photo tip

It’s a while I don’t write a tip about a venue. Mainly because after many years photographing live music it doesn’t happen often that I shoot a band in a place I haven’t been and told before. Corsica Studios in London, just behind Elephant and Castle shopping centre, are a first time for me.

It’s a small venue, on paper, with a capacity of 300 or so people, my favourite situation for concert photography.
The stage is quite high compared to the size, and relatively small because of the size.
A four members band as Cloud Nothings is crammed on it, more than that would be physically impossible unless someone finds a way to contradict Pauli exclusion principle.
It is a narrower, less hipster-friendly version of Hoxton Bar & Grill, if you have been there. There are few steps on the right to enter the stage.

For the audience the high stage makes the show enjoyable from front to back.
From a photographer’s perspective it’s a nightmar-ish situation. Too small to have a pit expect to have to find a place among fans although it is possible to photograph throughout the set. It is pretty dark too. Painted black are the walls, few the spotlights.
Tiny stage gets messy with cables, amplifiers and stuff. The unsynchronized coloured lights have different intensity. To find balanced settings during a song is a demanding challenge.
It requires expertise, patience (no three songs, thanks) and a good eye to be at the right moment at the right time.
A wide angle would help band shots but to minimize the elevated tilted perspective consider some telephoto portraits.

I am not a burst shooter and I believe my most successful photos have been achieved because I didn’t burst shoot instead I patiently waited for the right frame. This is what I highly suggest here (and elsewhere to be honest). It is better to miss few moments to get the good ones right.

Set your DSLR on single shooting, bring your fastest lens and keep the eye on the viewfinder all time. Learn how the light change during the same song and wait for the next moment the band, the light and the background comes together in that nice way. Songs most times have circular structure, that good moment to click does often come back.

I wrote before, quality over quantity. It’s about the music, it’s also about photography. To me still photography it is not cherry picking images from thousands thumbnails on Lightroom. It is about taking the right image the moment it happens. I rarely shoot more than 150 images over three songs and I downloaded less than that from the 30 minutes of this Cloud Nothings set.

~ by Valerio on September 5, 2012.

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