Anyone can make electronic music. Every necessary bit of hardware or software, every bit of knowledge, every tip or trick or tutorial is available to everyone now- and for relatively little money. And with that ubiquity of knowledge and access to all the necessary tools comes a sort of over-saturation, “If everybody knows all the tricks, it’s no more magic” says Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk. So the game has now become one of separation; of being absolutely and totally unique among thousands of new artists. The Notwist has fully realized this shift in the electronic music paradigm and has crafted something that genuinely separates them from other artists with their ninth and newest album.
During the first moments of Close to the Glass, one gets the impression that this could just be another head-nodding rip off of electro from the 90s; an arpeggiated synthesizer texture embellished with random rings and beeps and a skittering snare beat. But then the vocals enter. The voice is untreated: no vocoder, no auto-tune, calmly speaking about hideous signs and something about screaming. There’s some strange subtle terror waiting underneath these tracks, something unexpected or unnoticed, or combination of sounds that shouldn’t theoretically work together when discussed soberly.
And that really is the greatest strength of this album- its ability to defy expectation. “Kong,” the third song, for example, would almost seem completely out of place on this album were it not for its development into an absurd and oddly cohesive mash of orchestral layers, acoustic guitar, electronic glittering, and raucous bass. The marriage of these elements, electronic or otherwise, imbues Close to the Glass with the magic Thomas Bangalter feels is lacking in much of recent music. Anyone can make electronic music- but few can make it like this.
There’s a hot, twisting frustration and rage in those who feel disconnected from or overwhelmed by reality. Everything moves too fast and too slow, there’s nobody to talk to, there isn’t enough time, there’s energy with nowhere to go. “I’m caught between a beggar’s teeth,” sings Domenic Palermo of the band Nothing. The newest album from the Philadelphia quartet seems- to us at least-to be exploration of that frustration with detachment from a world out of time with one’s own rhythm. From this exploration, Nothing has made something dark, loud, and beautiful.
The landscape of each track is very similar; the vocals are treated as a musical instrument fully engulfed by the haze of incredibly loud ambient guitars, bass, and drums. Instead of lyrics that are heard, Palermo’s singing is more of a texture that is felt. It draws one in, trying to decipher the already cryptic lyrics Nothing has buried under heavy, leaden sonic layers. But perhaps that’s the message itself, trying to make sense of something that would be easy were it just a bit different. The themes in Guilty of Everything, then, are embodied by the music itself, a masterful and nuanced act on Nothing’s part.
But despite whatever nuance one discovers in the way Nothing has orchestrated Guilty of Everything, it’s important to remember that this band is loud. The tender, ambient moments give way to hysterical paroxysms of dissonance and consonance. Nothing sounds like they are collectively exorcising whatever demons of the past that may still haunt them. Even in their liner notes the quote, “To all things we’ve ever hated. To all things we’ve ever loved. Thanks for making this possible,” punctuates pages of lyrics juxtaposed with black and white pictures of a prison shower, a junkie spiking his vein, and other-almost ominous- photographs recreating bleary-eyed memories and recollections. We still don’t know entirely what Nothing is trying to tell us, but we are entirely sure it is important.