Philadelphia shoegaze act Nothing have been making quite a name for themselves since their formation in 2010. They released a few EPs independently before getting picked up by none other than the prestigious Relapse Records for their debut full-length Guilty of Everything in 2014. Since then, they’ve been getting fairly consistent attention in the music world, much of it certainly warranted thanks to their various associations with shoegaze acts like Whirr, Deafheaven, and even their labelmates Cloakroom. Now the band is up to their third full-length album for Relapse, Dance on the Blacktop, and I was curious to see where they headed with this new one, and this… proved to be a bit difficult to talk about. Mostly because, while the album is certainly enjoyable enough in most respects… it’s just more Nothing, as usual.
The opening track “Zero Day” sets the tone with some very familiar territory, opening with a steady clean grungy guitar riff that quickly brings the full band in, amping up the distortion into much fuzzier territory. The melodies drone and howl across the rest of the mix along with the vocal melodies, as all of it is caked in echo and reverb, and it’s driven by some equally steady drum work throughout. It mainly bounces back and forth between those clean and distorted parts through its entire run, and it’s solid enough overall. Much of the rest of the record follows a similar format, with songs that repeatedly vamp on their core melodies and working in a balance of softer and heavier passages.
Tracks like “Us/We/Are” actually make use of this balance fairly effectively, as the song has a pretty stomping tempo from the start, cranking up the distortion and using some palm-muted chords in the choruses that add contrast to the dense layers of melody in the verses. All throughout the track, the hazy lead melodies and heavier segments are broken up by brief pockets of clean melodies that help liven things up a bit. Similarly, “I Hate The Flowers” uses some off-kilter rhythmic accentuations to keep the guitar and drum work interesting within a more distorted framework, and it’s one of the better songs on the record for it.
However, while some songs can mix things up from time to time, most of the album often chooses the route of repetitious melodies and rhythms for the purpose of creating a moody delirious state. This causes many otherwise solid songs to bleed into one another after a while, thus lessening their impact overall. “You Wind Me Up” is a song that suffers a bit in this regard, as it constantly loops the same riff and melodies to the point of monotony, apart from a key change near the end. Songs like “Plastic Migraine” and “Hail on Palace Pier” rely on howling wispy lead guitars/synth melodies for the melancholic vibe, with some punctuations of distortion in place that almost call to mind Sannhet, but the songs just drift on repeatedly. “The Carpenters Son” is probably the weakest song on the album overall, owing to the fact that not only is it easily the most repetitive and slow track present, but it’s also the longest one. Combining the overly repetitious melodies and rhythms with its 7-minute length makes the whole thing feel like it’s just taking up album space that could have been left open.
Overall, Dance on the Blacktop serves as another competent entry in the Nothing catalog, but it’s not a wholly enthusiastic endorsement. It’s somewhat of a shame because the album is nowhere near terrible, and is a fairly decent listen overall. The album attempts to mix things up a little bit as it cranks up the guitar distortion in a way that feels a touch heavier than normal, but outside of that, the album provides little else to separate from other similar acts in the genre at the moment. The album is worth a curious listen or two for those who wish to try it out, and while the die-hard fans of the band will find plenty to latch on to, those looking for a game-changing record in the shoegaze genre may want to try looking elsewhere.
Final Verdict: stream it. A solid record that is serviceable for fans of the genre, but offers nothing bigger beyond some decent songs.
Dance on the Blacktop is available from Relapse Records on CD, digital download, vinyl, and streaming services.
[Note: A copy of the album was provided by Relapse Records for the purpose of this review.]