Philadelphia’s Nothing was one of my favourite musical discoveries of 2014. Their excellent debut full-length Guilty of Everything was in my year-end top five albums, and “Dig” was in my top five favourite songs. The band combined the layered fuzz of shoegaze with some of the sounds and structures of punk, grunge, metal, and indie rock, producing a synthesis that was distinct and compelling. And as if that wasn’t enough, my love of the band was cemented by their release of a special limited-run t-shirt featuring a rainbow-coloured version of the album art to celebrate marriage equality.
After extensive touring in support of Guilty, Nothing went back into the studio and the result is Tired of Tomorrow, which blows the idea of the sophomore slump out of the water and is guaranteed to be at or near the top of my 2016 best-of list.
As you might suspect from the title, this is not an album of sunshine and light, and a quick glance down the track list confirms this… “The Dead Are Dumb”, “Eaten By Worms”, “Our Plague”, and “ACD (Abcessive Compulsive Disorder)” are unlikely to be this summer’s feel-good anthems. The album’s second video is for “Eaten By Worms”, and the very first image is a beaten and bloody mouth telling us to “Have a laugh, we’re friends until the bitter end, so fry our heads” and then “Chasing breaths, plastic sheets, puddles of sweat, Leave what you left.” This is a physical, visceral album of belly pains, headaches, anxiety, blood, semen, infection, decay, pollution, poison, and nightmares.
Sounds pretty heavy, huh? Though the mood might be dark, this is not a dismal bummer of an album. The band has a knack for throwing hooks into unexpected places, and Dominic Palermo’s vocals convey more wistful hope for something better than resigned despair at life’s many darknesses. Yes, life is hard, and yes, it can be very painful, but Palermo doesn’t sound like someone who has given up… he sounds more disillusioned at the way that life fails to live up to the possibilities he knows are out there… “I’m living in a dream world, life’s a nightmare, and I don’t care how long it takes” (from “Nineteen Ninety Heaven”).
Indeed, Palermo’s vocals are a real signature piece of the Nothing sound. Although the instruments may be playing a thick, fuzzy, heavy stew around him, the vocals avoid the shrieking histrionics of metal or punk. Nothing’s tendency to combine influences often reminds me of another favourite band, Lush, with Palermo taking a vocal path that evokes Emma Anderson’s restrained background ethereality more than Miki Berenyi’s sometimes brash, commanding presence. The album is mixed so that neither the vocals nor the music push their way to the front; instead, they forge a symbiosis and the vocals almost function like another instrument. Even when the lyrics reach into darkest corners of the psyche, they don’t hog the spotlight in the songs, so it’s entirely possible to listen through the album and not realize just how much pain is being laid bare in the words. (The lyrics are all available on the album’s Bandcamp page for those who want to dive into them.)
We live in a world that can feel crushingly oppressive to anyone who believes in the innate goodness and potential of mankind and Palermo sees and feels that and channels it into this collection of songs. The worldview on display here often makes me think of Kurt Cobain, whose gentle, idealistic soul could produce very dark and cynical art that was often intended as biting commentary on the world around him, but was sometimes misread in more simplistic ways. Both musically and lyrically, Nothing and Nirvana sound like kindred spirits here. The complex, layered, dynamic recording also calls to mind Nevermind’s ability to make dark cynicism sound bold and anthemic. (And I challenge you to listen to the opening notes of “Eaten By Worms” without thinking of the intro to “Heart Shaped Box”.)
Tired of Tomorrow is available at Bandcamp in a standard edition and a deluxe version with two bonus tracks. In addition, there are multiple vinyl options, CD and cassette versions, and a limited vinyl edition of 110 copies, each of which comes with a unique album sleeve that was spattered with paint during the making of the video for “Vertigo Flowers”.
Go get yourself a copy. No, seriously, go. Now. You’ll be glad you did. And I can almost guarantee you won’t be tired of it tomorrow.