Look no further than the opening seconds and the transformation is clear. The opener, No Future/No Past is a real stunner. How a groovy kid like Baldi with such an ear for a tune could craft something this dreadful is beyond me. The opening track has got to be one of the hardest things I have ever tried to listen to (and keep in mind, this has been on repeat for a few days). Devoid of static and around a fourth of the tempo of a classic Cloud Nothings track, No Future/No Past is a sort of slow-dying tune in which not one note is in tune. It's not "rad," "punk," or "making a statement," it is much more than that: No Future/No Past is a full-fledged assault on your ears that genuinely hurts to listen to. It's safe to say I was a little nervous after hearing the first track.
A decent eight minute track picks things up. It sounds like Baldi has stopped recording on his MacBook microphone and has amped up the production (legend Steve Albini was called in for the job). However, the album finally has life in Fall In, the first really attractive song on the album. There's a catchyashell chorus, then they rock out, then they come back to the chorus. You really can't ask for more from Cloud Nothings; Fall In draws you in with a killer hook, knocks you back with a hard guitar line, only to bring you right back. The mediocre beginning continues to be left in the dust on Stay Useless, another great track on which there's sufficient amounts of experimentation with some good results.
After the crazy journey that is the first four songs, there's only a bit left, 12 minutes to be precise. Separation, a strange instrumental is followed by more dissonant vocals on No Sentiment, a dark horse track in Our Plans, and finally a cute closer, Cut You.
All in all, one could argue that Cloud Nothings achieved their goal with Attack on Memory; no one will ever call them lo-fi shoegazers again. However, Baldi seems to have sacrificed good music for the sake of conveying his message. No Future/No Past is absolutely dreadful, Separation hurts at times, and No Sentiment is perhaps the definition of mediocre. So what use does a message to your critics have if it's too painful to listen to?
Baldi is a great songwriter, next time he should just let his music do the talking.