Nothing – Dance on the Blacktop (Relapse Records)Sunday, 26th August 2018
In a small bar in San Diego a couple years ago I had the joy of seeing Nothing not long after Tired of Tomorrow came out. It was a good time and a learning experience in a couple of ways, chiefly in how frequently layered the vocals are and how playful the banter of the band was (‘I wrote this song, and it’s called “Right”), something very much in contrast with the perpetual seriousness of the music. That seriousness is at the fore of Dance On The Blacktop and it is a aching, even exhausting journey through both the shimmering and the malignant.
This isn’t anything new for the band, despair and despondency are territories the band covered with great success on Guilty Of Everything and Tired Of Tomorrow. The sound on those albums returns with Dance On The Blacktop, the warm haze of early 90s shoegaze played with abandon rather than resignation. When I initially heard initial single and album opener ‘Zero Day’, with its buried vocals and build to catharsis, I was taken aback. Like a dim light somewhere distant in a thick fog, the song cascades till the light finds you and in its glow destructive transcendence is found. Hyperbolic, maybe, but also fitting. It’s a stellar piece of work and a hell of a way to start the album.
And it doesn’t slow down (though the album doesn’t particularly speed up, either) running through the pales of variation offered by the template, pairing the soaring ‘Blue Line Baby’ (admittedly a track I was much fonder of in album context than my initial encounter with the video) with the metallic ‘I Hate The Flowers’, every song built around a core melodic idea and pushed to cathartic ends. The longest track on offer, ‘The Carpenter’s Son’ is a slow, largely unchanging journey toward a revelation most are loathe to acknowledge: that closure and catharsis are often never found at all.
”Nothing’s a surprise.”
And indeed the sonic territory has been derided by some as being old hat, that there’s little Nothing is doing on Dance On The Blacktop that hadn’t been done to death by 1994. It is true the band is not reinventing the wheel here nor do they particularly need to. There is a difference between repeating that of the past and using the well-worn mores of a sound to an effective end, even if the difference is defined along subtle lines and often difficult to define. Nothing remains on the positive side of that line by infusing a well established sound with a personality and emotional anchoring that is very much theirs.
A lot of the emotional weight that is embedded within Dance On The Blacktop was covered excellently in the premiere NPR gave the album before its release and if you haven’t, it’s a great read. And fortunately for you if you indulge it, Dance On The Blacktop is a great listen.