Music Review: Nothing – Dance on the Blacktop

Phonics from the flames

Not all heroes wear capes apparently, but it depends on what your criteria for heroism is. It can be cartoon grand dramatic gestures picking up buses or what not, running through flames, or as in reality, it can just be dealing with the shit that life throws at you on a daily basis. Getting knocked down, but getting back up again, even with the knowledge that it was probably going to happen again.

In that context of stepping up to raw reality, founder of the Philadelphia band Nothing Domenic Palermo could theoretically swap a hero cape for a hospital gown, becoming his superhero costume of no choice at all. His somewhat eventful life has been well documented on the bands previous two albums ‘Guilty of Everything’ (2014) and the follow up ‘Tired of Tomorrow’ (2016), that were basically sonic renditions of some of the speed bumps life was dropping in front of him. I say speed bumps, though speed Everests would be far more appropriate given the events.

They were albums of determination, and perseverance against the odds, vast infinite shoe gaze/dreamy sound vistas that were born from turmoil and darkness, yet they had an etherial beauty that like our own ever expanding universe were born from destructive moments, a violence that inherently created beauty and light. Epic, dark, forlorn and often with the sense of the moment just before someone gives up, yet they never did. Despite the odds, regardless of what dams where trying to stall the river, the music still streamed on, as if that creativity and touring could indeed cut through the rocks over time. And they did. Their honesty, vulnerability and beauty could split stone, perceptions and universes apart, where to the attentive, the potential bleakness actually presented a realistic beauty that surrounds us all, that only intensified if you were prepared to face the realities of life itself, and it’s fleeting transient nature.

Despite the knowledge that it all could over very easily, the mere act of creativity and creating these albums were a defiance against it all, a knowing wry smile and ‘Fuck You’ in the face of death. Sure it’s all gonna end at some stage, but let’s see what we can get away with in the mean time. Let’s build in the knowledge that it may be all torn down, as that moment of construction is life, birth and nurture. That finite existence making it all the more precious.

After a traumatic event and head injury that hospitalised Palermo and subsequently led to the drug tapestry haze that is ‘Tired of Tomorrow’, he was subsequently diagnosed with potential early signs of the neurodegenerative disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Considering some of the other not so great moments in his life, it’s a bit like, you think that was shit, hold my beer.

Many folk would just roll over and give up, but thanks to a gleeful and macabre viewpoint, a recognition of the ridiculousness of life, plus a super power of alchemy that turned the darkest of source materials into radiant sonic gold, resulting in their third album ‘Dance on the Rooftop’ (2018).

Building on the 11 years of scar tissue of the previous works and lifetimes of absorbing culture, the expanding universe of Nothing has this time taken on producer John Agnello who has historically worked with Screaming Trees, Dinosaur Junior and even Turdonegro to channel their sprawling expanse into a slightly tighter, focused potent force. The open space is still there, but used to contrast to the corraled dark.

To the inattentive ear it may sound all bleak as fuck, but that’s just for folk who live behind rose tinted glasses. Toss the glasses aside, look at the reality of it all, and there’s far more exquisite and real beauty to be experienced, an infinite depth of detail and possibility, with no loss of the spectrum. Like the previous albums it has a somewhat holistic palliative quality (we’re all ill to some extent), that drifts you out of the harbour and on to the sea of many life stories, storms and all.

But behind it all remains that stubborn, defiant soaring creative optimism, the sort that knows creating, sharing is the life force itself. The beauty isn’t in the decay, the beauty is the decay.

9/10 ‘Dance on the Blacktop’ is out now.