Nothing, “Dance on the Blacktop”

Nothing
Dance on the Blacktop
RELAPSE
8/10

When Nothing was touring fresh off the release of their debut LP Guilty of Everything in 2014, there was a palpable feeling of unease among their audiences. Fans of Dominic Palermo’s disbanded hardcore-punk group Horror Show nervously wrung their tatted hands as they leered at the surrounding crowd of shoegaze enthusiasts, who themselves felt out of place when the band finally took the stage to a recording of the anxious a cappella of Daniel Johnston’s “Devil Town.” Among the softest groups listed on Relapse Records’ roster, and among the heaviest to play alongside Whirr, Airiel, and Swirlies, Nothing quickly branded themselves as a difficult band to pin down—an eeliness that’s managed to subside with every step the band takes in the direction of conventional shoegaze.

On their third album, Dance on the Blacktop, the only thing that really separates Nothing from contemporary shoegaze purists is the residual memory of the hardcore punk ethos that fueled their debut. There’s a moment midway through “You Wind Me Up” (a near-perfect imitation of a ’gazy Labrador Records deep cut), for example, where the band replicates the brooding precipice on Guilty of Everything’s “Get Well”—yet rather than plummeting to a bottomless breakdown, it blends back into the soft chorus, ultimately followed by a bold key change. As was the case with 2016’s Tired of Tomorrow, what initially feels like a watered-down sequel to a totally unique album reveals itself to be an impressive demonstration of dream-pop art brut.

This isn’t to say the bite of “Dig” or “ACD” doesn’t reveal itself here—opener “Zero Day” is armed with an edgy riff that’s later repurposed for “Us/We/Are” and “I Hate the Flowers.” But at the same time, Palermo’s vocals are nearly unrecognizable on Blacktop, reaching a higher register encouraged by an icier instrumental accompaniment. By the second song he’s already reached a whispiness previously reserved for the emotional crush of Guilty’s closing title track. Because the band has largely exorcised the violent energy matched by Palermo’s lyrics, the apocalyptic imagery and self-criticism find themselves front and center here (“Empty sky of everlasting misfortune / The harvest is dead”), providing the only sound case against capitalizing the “n” in “Carpenter’s Son”’s closing lyric: “Nothing’s a surprise.” 

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