To begin, the band is called Nothing. There’s a heavy signifier, all on its lonesome. It’s a big name and small name, all in the same. They play a form of hyper-aggressive shoegaze. The band and their members have a dramatic history worthy of a biopic on VHI in the mid-1990s. All this tells you something, but the music speaks loudly as well. Singer Domenic Palermo started in hardcore, and as much as Nothing is distant from that, he holds those aesthetics close to his chest, whether it be in the occasional heaviness of the music or the general hopelessness of some of the lyrics. Dance on the Blacktop is Nothing’s third full-length, and as much as it’s a rehash of their sound, it’s a refined version of it.
From the outset, Nothing was turning heads, mostly because they didn’t play metal and they were on Relapse, a noted metal label. So, Guilty of Everything, their debut, was framed awkwardly. Outside of that critical confusion though, Guilty of Everything, has a defined sound of its own. It’s shoegaze with a penchant for pummeling the listener whenever it gets a break from the breathy singing. Tired of Tomorrow, the follow-up, didn’t change much, but occasionally sounded like Nirvana, which was surprisingly functional for the band’s repertoire. Dance on the Blacktop takes all that and ups the bet just enough to not turn anyone off.
Dance on the Blacktop is not a new Nothing, it’s just Nothing in new clothes, and it is probably a Smashing Pumpkins T-shirt. Whereas the past albums mixed the guitars on a equal of lower level than the vocals, allowing Palermo’s nearly whispered vocals to be a highlight, Dance on the Blacktop mixes the guitars higher and adds layers of crunch, reminiscent of the glory days of the aforementioned Pumpkins. Bringing in John Agnello, a studio veteran associated with the hugest of the era from Kim Deal to Sonic Youth, probably has everything to do with this. Furthermore, the album shows a heavier interests in riffs as opposed to just soaring chords and lengthy grooves. In the end, Dance on the Blacktop, comes off as a homage to the best of early ’90s alternative rock.
For this reviewer, a few tracks stand out above the rest. “You Wind Me Up” is a poppy version of what the band has been doing for years; think “Alison” by Slowdive but with buzzsaw guitars. “Us/We/Are” is the ultimate representation of the aforementioned 1990s alternative obsession, complete with a super crunchy riff and repeated refrain of “everything’s red”. “Carpenter’s Son” also stands out, if nothing more than just a song that allows the listener to breathe for a moment as the band settles into a long, slow movement of a song without any explosions. It’s a rare look for the group, to be sure.
On “Zero Day” the opening track, Palermo, opens the album by singing “everything starts the same”. It’s an awesome lyric for a band like Nothing to begin with. This is a band that bucked expectations from the beginning. They don’t really need our guidance. It all starts the same, but from there, they go whatever way they want. Nothing wrong with that.