Album Of The Week: NOTHING’s Dance On The Blacktop

The relentlessly cheerless Philadelphia shoegaze quartet throw an end of the world party, and no-one is welcome…

Domenic Palermo seems resigned to the grotesque and hopeless absurdity of just existing and living his life day-to-day. The NOTHING vocalist and guitarist has his reasons; he certainly doesn’t have many for believing otherwise. His experiences thus far are pockmarked by incarceration, self-destruction, chronic illness, and other similarly difficult obstacles that would be enough on their own, let alone all thrown together in one person’s life. A somewhat reductive descriptor for his outlook would be nihilism, but even that would probably require too much effort. He is approaching status as the king of ennui, and yet there’s glorious irony in how euphoric marrying this most miserable and melancholic worldview is to music of such lush, transportive quality.

Needless to say that if you’re coming to Dance On The Blacktop looking for party jams, move on. It’s a title derived from old prison-yard slang for a punch-up, after all, and considering Domenic spent two years in the big house in the early 00s (on aggravated assault and attempted murder charges after stabbing someone in a fight between rival hardcore gangs), the blanks fill themselves in. For those already familiar with the Philly crew, welcome back to the oddly comforting cocoon of a band who chisel art from the ugliness of life to unearth its underlying beauty.

NOTHING, Blue Line Baby

So much of what the quartet deliver across these nine tracks should smother and choke, such is the relentless dirge and darkness, but relief comes in the merest hints of humour (albeit icily delivered) and the abundant melodic flashes of light that crack through the heady shoegaze clouds. On the surface, Dance On The Blacktop is a hazy, blissed-out collection of slow-moving, heavy musical waves that swirl and crash around barely-there vocals. Wade through them, however, and you’ll find an ocean of despair. 

Case in point: half-smirking, self-loathing closer, (Hope) Is Just Another Word With A Hole In It, revels in lines like A thousand mirrors reflect disgrace,’ belying the sound of survival and defiance in the seams, typical of the record’s 45-minute triumph. 

It’s an odd feeling that you get listening to it, and it’s hard to pinpoint its origins. Maybe it’s the towering squalls of guitars and the minimal, kneading rhythms. Maybe it’s the warm production blanket John Agnello (Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth) throws over everything. It certainly doesn’t emanate from the sentiment behind it all, for there is no empty bumper-sticker rhetoric here. Instead, NOTHING say that everything will not be okay in the end; there is no reason to believe; life sucks and everyone dies alone. Another prime example is Us/We/Are, which almost sounds like an early Radiohead pastiche, but as Domenic mumble-breathes the words I opened up a can and cut myself instead/Everything red,’ he makes infamous misery guts Thom Yorke sound like a chirpy kids TV presenter.

It’s bleak, it’s far from fun, and it’s not for everyone, but Dance On The Blacktop is unfailingly honest, raw and uniquely stunning. Like manic laughter in the face of an impending apocalypse, NOTHING might be going down, but they’re doing so very much on their own terms.

Words: David McLaughlin

Dance On The Blacktop is out now on Relapse Records. Listen now on the stream below.

Posted on August 24th 2018, 10:00a.m.
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