Dylan Baldi has quite the post-millennial blog rock mild-success story. Kid writes a bunch of buzzy garage pop songs, records them on computer, gets offered a slot opening for Woods and Real Estate, forms a band to play said songs and drops out of college to become a career musician. The parentally-minded of the world might be tempted to chide Baldi for a rash decision to abandon a traditional career path for the trappings of indie rock stardom, the decision seems to have turned out well so far. On the strength of two solid releases, Turning On (a singles compilation) and last year’s self titled LP, he’s built a bit of a following and for good reason. Both records featured incredibly catchy tracks like “Hey Cool Kid,” an early blog favorite, and “Understand It All,” which was paired with a suitably abstruse video. Though the punk ethos remains, on Attack On Memory, Baldi has chosen to move in a new direction.
Gone is the bratty spirit that placed Cloud Nothings alongside early Wavves in the lo-fi dregs. Like Nathan Williams chose to do on his latest EP, Baldi has upped the recording quality (with help from producer Steve Albini), and is mining similar 90s influenced musical territory. However, the direction that Baldi chose to move is different to Williams. Where Wavves drew on the poppier moments of the 90s pop-punk movement, Baldi’s transformation draws from heavier sides. A whole laundry list of influences could be name dropped here, but that’d be unfair to the songs Baldi has created.
Though these tracks are obviously indebted to the 90s emo of bands like Sunny Day Real Estate or Jawbreaker, Baldi has composed an album that holds up to these greats. The guitar here, under the wizened hand of Albini, adopts a similarly huge place in the mix, and though Baldi’s vocal lines are appropriately throat-shredding in a way that isn’t entirely dissimilar to Blake Schwarzenbach, his songwriting and knack for catchy melodies still shine through this new-found focus on a heavier approach. “Stay Useless” is amongst the most infectious tracks that Baldi has penned to date. It’s probably the best example of the devices that Baldi has employed on this record. It takes a vocal line that might have been just as effective on previous efforts and pairs it with insistent drumming and huge-sounding guitar parts that weren’t there before.
These tracks are just as good as previous efforts. “Fall In,” too, could have been present on earlier albums if just produced a little differently, but this new focus on sounding as massive and heavy as possible makes the record feel powerful despite its short running time (34 minutes). Even the nearly-9-minute behemoth “Wasted Days,” which might have come across as empty and meandering on earlier albums, feels important and whole because of the the immaculate production that Albini is able to provide.
All that’s not to say that this is a perfect album. One could certainly argue that Baldi relies a bit too heavily on these obvious influences, using these reference points as crutches for some of the weaker tracks on the record. But even on these weaker tracks, such as the Nirvana-aping opener “No Future/No Past,” the attitude with which Baldi sells them more than makes up for cheesiness or reliance on old tropes. Whenever he shows a youthful misstep in songwriting ability, he more than makes up for it with the gusto with which he attacks the tracks. It’s a more than suitable followup to two solid collections of songs, and is the first truly solid coherent work in a career that will hopefully be marked by many many more.