This teaming of Cleveland teen pop-punk savant Dylan Baldi (Cloud Nothings) and California snarling drone guitar-slinger Kevin Greenspon, form quite the imposing duo and take second place to 2010’s most odd but awesome pairing (losing out just below the Boris/Ian Asterbury split). Greenspon and Baldi desperately up the ante on every one of the split’s nostalgic, ramshackle three-chord, teen-basement guitar mashers. Thrilling songs built around strong melodies, four-on-the-floor burners, and pure, sweat-stained aggression. Greenspon’s traditionally subdued ambient drones are traded out for simple pop songs played with absolute reckless abandon, showing his cards as an absolutely inventive and versatile guitarist.
Side A: Cloud Nothings. Holy wow. I haven’t heard someone take the much maligned genre of this lo-fi/pop-punk as seriously since…The Thermals first two albums? Has it been that long since someone played this fast, this smart, and this good? I guess so. Baldi wastes no time in establishing himself as a cut above the naive, moppish hijinks of Wavves or his subsequent clones. Showing his impressive chops right off the bat, the solo at the end of “You’re Not Good at Anything” rips a jagged hole right through the middle of the track much like Greg Ginn’s introductory anti-solo on “Rise Above”. It feels really great to be able reach back into some of my favorite high-school bands to pull out some of these references. I have a feeling Baldi feels the same way (although he is barely out of high school). While each song lasts a little more than a minute “Dead Girl” spends about half of that time completely in the red. A brutal, absolutely corporeally heavy, blitzberg of noise completely overwhelms whatever cheap recording equipment this was recorded on and tears my new headphones to shreds. This is the reason I will be deaf before I am 30. While these absolutely scorching moments are the most memorable and worth repeating, songs like “I apologize” are perfect little gems of bombed-out power-pop way more attuned to Go Sailor or Matthew Sweet than Black Flag. But still, that solo. Yikes. So good.
Side B: Kevin Greenspon. While rooted in the same pop-punk melodics as Cloud Nothings, Greenspon’s compositions are infinitely more dense and textured, in the black and more restrained. A pretty drastic sea-change from 2009’s drone masterpiece Bracing, Greenspon’s songs would be absolute compact disc gold if you would have stumbled upon this circa 1993 when bands like Superchunk, Jawbox and The Softies (1995) were producing melodic, super-charged pop songs underneath the commanding pall of expertly layered electric guitar squalor. While slightly more nasally than Cloud Nothings, Greenspon’s multi-tracked vocals fit in just beneath the omnipresent shimmering buzz of distorted power chords while tackling themes of childhood, teenhood, and fantasy crushes. If I could go back in time I would absolutely make “Carpool Pepsi” my wedding song, and demand Greenspon to be my wedding band. That song has been on never-end repeat ever since I heard it.
While tackling similar sonic and topical terrain, Greenspon and Baldi represent two different sides of the pop-punk nostalgia. For Greenspon, nostalgia is exactly what it is, a recapturing of past feelings while playing star-crazed in friends jittery from liters of Mt. Dew knock offs. For Cloud Nothings, all of this feels close to the bone, a “what, nobody listens to ALL anymore?” type willful bucking of trends, and for the fey allusions to crushes and youthful indescretions, all of this feels like Baldi simply relating what is happening in the moment. Brilliant.