There’s a reason fans are so passionate about Philadelphia’s Nothing, whose third album, ‘Dance On The Blacktop, sees them master their signature blend of shoegaze, grunge and post-hardcore. The lyrics are often nihilistic, but the music – which oscillates between buzzy, minor-key guitar riffs and pretty, delicate harmonies – is weirdly uplifting, appearing to rise above the hardship therein. And, Lord knows, frontman Dominic Palermo has known some hardship.
As he has acknowledged, the man has the kind of luck you could write a brutally black comedy about. Imprisoned for stabbing a man during a brawl, he was released only to be beaten up so badly that he’s been left with a degenerative brain disease. Pulling his life back together to record the band’s second album, 2016’s bleakly beautiful ‘Tired Of Tomorrow’, he discovered the project was being funded by Martin Shkreli, the toxically unethical ‘pharma bro’ who infamously jacked the price of AIDS drug Daraprim by 5000%. Palermo negotiated himself out of the deal, delaying the album, which finally came out to critical acclaim.
Two things we learn about Dominic Palermo here: he’s principled, and a dogged motherfucker. He will just keep on going. As he once told NME: “I look at everything that goes on and it’s so absurd sometimes. All you can do is laugh. Like, “What is this absurd life?” ‘Dance on the Blacktop’ takes its title from prison slang for a fight in the recreation ground and, thematically, the album’s about accepting that joy often stands side by side with pain. No, it’s not a wild departure from its predecessors, though it’s no less powerful for that.
‘You Wind Me Up’ is almost anthemic – a standout, it erupts into a chiming guitar refrain that ushers in a wheezing grunge verse, before a jubilant guitar solo lifts the whole track skywards – while ‘The Carpenter’s Son’ is the record’s most elegiac moment, as Brandon Setta threads sparse guitar notes through a shimmering soundscape. “I don’t wanna know,” Palermo whispers, “Why I’m low”.
Opener ‘Zero Track’ is Nothing at their most bruising, a lithe riff smothered by thunderous percussion as Palermo delivers elliptical, stream-of-consciousness lyrics based on images sifting through his mind: “Blood that binds / Oxygen and time / Beautiful / Rarest plague”. There it is: beauty and horror, side by side, relayed with the resolve and wonder you need to weather whatever shit life throws your way – the kind Dominic Palermo has in spades.