If there’s anything that both California’s Wavves and Ohio’s Cloud Nothings are both known for, it’s bringing scuzzy loner-pop to the masses. The former’s transition from borderline disgusting-sounding bedroom recordings to an album that wouldn’t sound out of place towards the beginning of Weezer’s discography has earned frontman/songwriter/guitarist Nathan Williams praise from “hipster” bloggers and alt-rock radio alike. Nothings’s Dylan Baldi chose a very similar career path: He started writing and recording in his parents’ basement, and wound up making two genre-defining records that caught the attention of both Williams’s skateboarding stoner crowd as well as those looking for something with a little more emotional depth. In a way, both Williams and Baldi are probably the most important musicians within the lo-fi “garage rock” sound nowadays – not to take anything away from the Ty Segalls and Thee Oh Sees of the world, but their accessibility and lyrical candor allowed them to reach certain heights that weren’t seen as attainable by any given Burger Records artist.
One might say, then, that the recent collaborative effort between Williams and Baldi, acting under their respective monikers, is like the Watch The Throne of the lo-fi punk sound. Wavves is Jay-Z, the busier, more recognizable one with a bigger public prescence, and Cloud Nothings serves as Kanye, the smarter and more artistically-driven little brother figure. Unlike its spiritual hip-hop predecessor, though, neither man decidedly outshines the other on No Life For Me (the name of the joint LP). Through all of its nine tracks, both Williams and Baldi (assisted by Williams’s brother Joel on keyboards) weave in and out of each other with distinct stylistic cues, allowing the listener to tell the influence of the two apart, but not so the record as a whole sounds divided or choppy. A good example of this comes on the title track, where fans of both will hear a heavy Wavves influence as he takes the lead on the verse, which subsequently transitions into a very Nothings-y chorus. The shifts in songwriting are always smooth, however, and it’s clear that the two shared a very similar vision for each track so as to keep the record sounding cohesive and flowing correctly.
The one major shortcoming of No Life For Me, though, arises out of the fact that both musicians are handing the songwriting baton back and forth. Though some moments on the album (“Nervous”, “Come Down”) are pretty much excused from this particular grouse, for the most part it’s difficult to get used to one writing style or the other because the two keep shifting so much. Part of what makes a record made by just one of the two so compelling is that it offers a portrait of the artist, so to speak, and although Baldi and Williams joining forces in this case offers a plethora of great vocal and instrumental moments, it’s a lot harder to go as deep into this particular effort than it is a solo Wavves or Cloud Nothings LP. It’s neither of the musician’s faults, of course, just a side effect of working with someone else – but unfortunately No Life For Me isn’t as emotionally focused as, say, Cloud Nothings’s most recent release Here And Nowhere Else.
Overall, though, it’s safe to say that the record probably lives up to most fans’ expectations. Just the fact that Williams and Baldi worked on something together is enough, and being able to hear both of their stylistic influences on a record is a pretty cool experience for anyone who’s been following both of their careers for a long time. However, the fact that it’s impossible for No Life For Me to lean either all the way Williams or Baldi is what, in the end, makes it fall short of exceptional. The fact that “Such A Drag” and “Nothing Hurts”, two tunes penned exclusively by Williams and Baldi, respectively, are the most focused and driven-sounding parts of the record only serves to support this notion. No Life For Me, then, while still being satisfyingly more than a novelty release, won’t really do much for non-hardcore fans of the two other than provide a few catchy summer pick-me-ups. This record, while unmistakably good, proves that in order for either of the two to really shine in every way on a particular project, it needs to be theirs and theirs alone.