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Staring into the Sea

Philly's Nothing pay tribute to the shoegaze sound of the past, but can they still be considered metal?

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It will probably take another cycle of shoegaze revivals to tell whether Nothing will garner a mention in the same pantheon as its heroes in Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine because for now the Philadelphia quartet is simply a very good band stuck in limbo as doomgaze or—shudder—nu-gaze.

That's not entirely fair to the band, who like contemporaries Deafheaven, offer a fresh and more rock-oriented take on the so-called miasma bands of the late '80s and early '90s. Along with My Bloody Valentine and co-U.K. scene kings Ride, bands like Slowdive, Chapterhouse, Lush, and Swervedriver took American post-hardcore indie rock of the Dinosaur Jr. - Sonic Youth - Husker Du SST era and internalized the enveloping guitar violence until it became a warm, viscous womb. The noise became a shield in which the androgynously sung (by both male and female vocalists) lyrics could be safe from outside criticism that, quite frankly, these introverted musicians couldn't deal with. Or at least that's how it was played out.

Cocooned in swaths of shimmering and translucent noise, staring at their Nintendo Power Pad of effects pedals on the floor of the stage, too fragile to face their audience made up of their friends' bands that weren't playing that night—all of this proved very amusing to Melody Maker writer Steve Sutherland, who referred to these groups as "The Scene That Celebrates Itself." Which is relevant here, because the inference of what the bands are celebrating themselves for is not much of anything—or Nothing.

Aside from Nothing's backstory—singer Domenic Palermo infamously spent time in prison for attempted murder prior to the band's formation—which makes it nu-gaze's very own 50 Cent, the fact that the band is signed to metal label Relapse Records seems to have inspired some backlash and slight controversy from a scene that doesn't really celebrate itself these days. It's not surprising that Nothing's Guilty of Everything was targeted towards forward thinking metal audiences—after all, shoegaze's original acts have been swallowed up, revised into outward aggression, and combined with all different sorts of '80s and '90s descendants of both Pigfuck (Big Black, Scratch Acid) and the more metal side of grunge (the Melvins, most notably) to expand the palette. Since all of these sub-genres proved inspirational to subsequent post-rock, post-metal, and hardcore, bands like Nothing or Deafheaven are externalizing the narcissism inherent in original shoegaze.

In Nothing's case, this is far from a bad place to be in. Guilty of Everything is probably more aesthetically indebted to the Smashing Pumpkins career defining Siamese Dream than Loveless or anything by Slowdive, which is to say it's the U.S. rock 'n' roll response to the textural, nuanced, and more emotionally complicated work of its British counterparts. While the wind tunnel guitars and sleepwalking drums plod with the best of the best, the whispered vocals and '90s alternative rock dynamics (soft-loud-soft-loud-with-the-lights-out-it's-less-dangerous, repeat) make the record a very enjoyable romp through dream-pop unencumbered by British tastefulness, and the entire band is truly expressive while telling the ain't no cure for the summertime blues story of American rock music.

So where does this leave Nothing? Perhaps in the same league as Ride's Nowhere or just nowhere; only hindsight will say. For now, however, they are providing a much needed shot in the arm—and a real alternative—to monochromatic metal scene at odds with them.

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