Nothing have returned, and they’ve brought along their brand of maudlin shoegaze to ruin this lovely year we’ve all been having. The band have quietly become one the biggest acts in the nu-shoegaze canon, appealing to everyone from sad boy indie kids to emo metalheads to 90’s-adoring thirty-somethings. On The Great Dismal, Nothing feed this fanbase everything they’ve come to expect from the Philadelphia band, unloading on them another portentous dose of hushed vocals, stylish guitar effects and weighty dynamics.
Nothing’s shoegaze influence has been much commented on, and for good reason. Their guitar sounds are rarely anything other than a direct pastiche, mainly of My Bloody Valentine, however also of 90’s legends Slowdive and The Smashing Pumpkins. The MBV-worship has, if anything, only increased on The Great Dismal, with tracks ‘Say Less’ and ‘April Ha Ha’ directly aping the maximalist, diving textures of Kevin Shields. The emulation of these sounds is technically precise, however Nothing’s reliance on these nearly thirty year old techniques is starting to become a little boring, and doesn’t paint an especially forward-thinking or progressive image of the nu-shoegaze scene.
Certain tracks are strong, particularly the more straight-forward, less stylised ones. ‘In Blueberry Memories’ and ‘Just A Story’ are the album’s best tracks, the latter especially. It’s a driving, well-structured head-nodder that uses the effects gimmicks to potent effect, particularly the final stretch and its simple, high-pitched tremolo guitar that recalls the synth glaze of Deftones’ ‘The Spell of Mathematics’. ‘Just A Story’ is nowhere near as devastating as anything Deftones produce, however the best tracks on The Great Dismal do occasionally resemble the Sacramento act, if they’d been given a heavy dose of sedatives.
Unfortunately, the album severely starts to lose its footing upon closer inspection of the lyrics. An air of moody vagueness has long been Nothing’s trademark, and they’ve only cranked it up on The Great Dismal. This year’s obviously been tough, and almost every piece of music you hear right now seems to be, intentionally or not, a comment on the sad state of affairs that has been 2020. But Nothing’s angsty brand of sixth form poetry is really not the tonic we need to help us come to terms with everything that’s going on right now. ‘April Ha Ha’s refrain of “isn’t it strange watching people trying to outrun rain” is truly terrible, as is ‘In Blueberry Nights’ “o des to bee keepers and dead pyramids” or ‘Ask The Rust’s random string of words; “dawn of days, limitless beginnings, war with hands, stale hours, minutes”. There seems to be an attempt here to capture some of Chino Moreno’s style of dreamy, impressionistic imagery, yet it fails quite spectacularly. A mixed bag, The Great Dismal plays to Nothing’s strengths and gives their fans exactly what’s to be expected of the Philadelphia band. However the limitations of their sound are really starting to show, and their crass attempts at depth are at times genuinely laughable. Perhaps it's time to relegate the swirling shoegaze stuff to the past and figure out a new way of playing textured, dreamy rock music. If Nothing want to continue to develop as artists, they better come up with an answer quickly.
The Great Dismal is out now via Relapse Records