Dominic Palermo, the founder of Philadelphia-based shoegaze band Nothing, has always had a knack for producing a quality mixture of storytelling and emotional conveyance in his artistic efforts. The gentleman has led quite a life to wind up where he is now, as a journey full of introspection and self-discovery tends to exhaust even the most resilient of individuals. With the success of the band’s previous record Dance on the Blacktop achieving success due to its pseudo-minimalistic arrangements and vast lyrical content, the inevitability of progression was bound to appear, and sure enough, that sign manifested itself to Palermo – in the form of a newspaper. With a picture of a black hole inspiring the creation of fourth studio album The Great Dismal, the message clearly exudes from the music – current times are melancholic and the universe feels on the verge of collapse, but there is always a chance for transformation.
“A Fabricated Life” starts off with dysphoric strumming and a slow-moving croon throughout the entirety of the track before a climax that feels like laying in a meadow. The lyrics are particularly haunting here – “But what else can I ask for? / I’m nauseous from the ride / Degeneration in the wind / A fabricated life” end the song on a harrowing note. Harpist Mary Lattimore contributes some strings to make this an opener worth remembering. “Say Less” brings the beat up a notch with distorted guitars and dissonance playing second fiddle. The drumming takes center stage here with numerous ghost notes and fills being utilized. Sudden jolts into chaotic feedback remind the listener of the undertones that are the main theme of the record. “April Ha Ha” features much more fuzziness and abrasion than the previous two tracks; the atmosphere feels spacious, while sections of clean playing really add to the dichotomy of sounds provided. “Catch a Fade” is one of those songs you can imagine being played on contemporary radio; the vocal mix seems to be much more pronounced in this specific track (as a Will Yip production, I am taken aback), but this plays to the strengths of this section of the record – Palermo’s voice is one that sounds exasperated but truly emotional.
“Famine Asylum” plays virtually the same as what we have heard so far; the chorus in this track is stronger than most of the others on the record as it really takes hold of the “dream” effect put on the vocals and makes it feel a bit bigger than its predecessors. The epic ending is also one that put a smile on my face; a feeling of triumph is akin to what I experienced during the finalities of the song (and by extension, the first half of the record). “Bernie Sanders” was my favorite of the three tracks released before the album’s release date, and it fits very well within the context of The Great Dismal. This is one of the songs where the instrumentation is key to the feeling of the track itself, as the lyrics remain pretty static and used sparingly, adding to the emphasis of the band’s sentiment. “In Blueberry Memories” is a highlight of the album – the contrast between Palermo’s lilts and the ever-changing intensity of the instrumental behind him provokes a peak in the back half of the record, where full-lengths typically start to falter with filler and repetitiveness.
“Blue Mecca” is another slow-paced song relying on the instrumentals to bring home the passion behind the writing of the song. The pedals were hard at work on this song, as constant discordance reigned throughout its totality. “Just a Story” brings forth another solid track, although I can not really pick one thing out in particular that makes this song shine. It works, and it fits in the thematic sense of the record, but nothing about it (outside of the chorus and the back half bridge with the repeating drum fill) really jumps off of the page. That is not the case for album closer “Ask the Rust” which starts as a continuation of the aforementioned track. A proper sendoff after approximately forty-five minutes, the ending lyrics mirror the words at the beginning of the record – “Metal, oxygen, and water / In time anything will fade / Everything decays”. These lyrics are a bit poignant given the current state of the world we reside in, but albums are meant to act as benchmarks in time, and The Great Dismal does a great job at stamping its mark in 2020.
Whether or not the album speaks emotionally with individuals or not, it is clear that Palermo and the rest of the band poured their souls into the cacophony of sounds and words that they have presented to us. Truth be told, this is the most involved I have been in a review since… maybe Loathe? I can’t truly remember. What I do know is that conceptually and substantively, Nothing has created a record that shows an impressive amount of contrivance and heart, and is sure to resonate with some who feel that no matter what the situation, we as humanity will be okay in due time.
I give The Great Dismal by Nothing a 9.5 out of 10.
The standout tracks on this record are “Catch a Fade”, “Bernie Sanders”, and “In Blueberry Memories”.
- A Fabricated Life
- Say Less
- April Ha Ha
- Catch a Fade
- Famine Asylum
- Bernie Sanders
- In Blueberry Memories
- Blue Mecca
- Just a Story
- Ask the Rust