To date, Wavves and Cloud Nothings have had nearly identical career trajectories. Despite their plural monikers, both are essentially one-man projects — Wavves is Nathan Williams, Cloud Nothings is Dylan Baldi — that emerged from the lo-fi blogosphere craze of about six years. Since then, both of them have embraced more hi-fi studio sounds, venturing into bubbly pop-punk before shifting into darker, grungier terrain.
Despite these similarities, Wavves and Cloud Nothings are appealing for very different reasons. Wavves’ draw is inextricably intertwined Williams’ personality: his bad-boy skateboarder image, the cruddy tattoos, his weed-and-pizza-fixated social media presence, and his disaffected slacker style. On the other hand, Baldi’s aesthetic is practically non-existent, and Cloud Nothings’ music has grown more jarring and cathartically angry.
On the collaborative album No Life for Me, they aren’t quite able to bring out the best in one another. There are occasional glimmers of their individual styles: the careening, throat-tearing finale of “How It’s Gonna Go” is pure Cloud Nothings, while Williams’ sneering lead vocals on the fuzz-blasted title track sound like like classic Wavves.
The production is neither as raw and visceral as would be expected from Cloud Nothings, nor as woozy and psychedelic as typical Wavves. Instead, it ends up in a middle ground that’s pleasingly punchy, but not always distinctive. Tunes like “Nervous” and “No Life for Me” are catchy, but its tempting to imagine that they might sound livelier if they had been saved for these musicians’ main projects.
Add the fact that this nine-song album includes two short instrumental sketches — “Untitled I” and “Untitled II,” which are so superfluous that Williams and Baldi didn’t even bother to title them — and it seems a bit like the collaborators were running low on inspiration.
There’s one song that clearly rises above the rest: closer “Nothing Hurts,” a beautifully bittersweet lament written and sung by Baldi. Without any drums to support its clanging electric guitars, the wistful mood is unique from anything Wavves or Cloud Nothings have done individually, and it recalls classic-era Guided by Voices in the way it manages to stuff such melodic richness and depth of feeling into less than two minutes.
Still, even if the rest of No Life for Me fails to match the high standard of “Nothing Hurts,” the album works nicely as an appetite-whetter until these artists release their next individual efforts. And with Wavves promising another new album in August, we shouldn’t have long to wait.
review by Alex Hudson