Among an exciting crop of British bands huddled loosely under the post punk banner, Nottingham’s Do Nothing have just released their long-anticipated debut record, and they’re bringing it to Brudenell Social Club in September.
Do Nothing’s music contains contradictions. It’s pretty but jagged, sentimental but deadpan, world-weary but hopeful. Like everything they’ve released over the past few years, their debut record Snake Sideways is slippery, hard to pin down. But that’s what makes it so captivating, and such a rewarding repeat listen. Like watching a scene unfold through a stained glass window, its colours and shapes change depending on where you stand.
The band started making music as teenagers living in Nottingham, eventually taking a year off to regroup and reset with a more honed style. A pair of EPs, 2020’s Zero Dollar Bill and the following year’s Glueland established Do Nothing among the most interesting bands in the crowded post punk landscape, snapping at the heels of the likes of Squid and Black Country, New Road.
Propelled by acerbic lyricism, razor sharp guitar hooks and off-kilter drum grooves, Glueland was particularly great. Drawing on everything from Fyre Festival villain Billy McFarland to The Simpsons’ Lionel Hutz, singer Chris Bailey’s lyrics across that EP were brilliantly obscure and often hilarious, delivered in a loose, I-don’t-care style. Musically, tunes like ‘Uber Alles’ and ‘Glueland’ lurched between melodic melancholy and something altogether more frenetic.
The lyrics on Snake Sideways take a bit of a different approach to what we’ve heard before. For one the deep-cut pop culture references are far fewer, with the feeling that Chris Bailey has grown tired of hiding behind eyerolling half-metaphors. Instead he steers towards a starker kind of honesty, interrogating ideas of tying identity to a vocation, the sense of letting others down, the precarity of dreams, and the prison of self-criticism.
These themes are perhaps most evident on the collage of disaffection that is ‘Happy Feet’, a devilishly pretty moment built around guitarist Kasper Sandstrom’s delicately strummed acoustic and more jagged electric switches. Bailey describes his lyrics on the song as being “super unglamorous” and there is something stark about hearing him admit “I’m not gonna dress it up, today didn’t go so well”.
The same tension is felt in the opening track ‘Nerve’, a lush, woozy ballad that begins with Bailey crooning the line “They’re gonna fire you in the morning” as he reflects on his fear that the band would come to an end as a result of the creative impasse he found himself at while trying to write the record. It’s also there in “Amoeba,” an anxious creep of a song delivered from between “England’s teeth,” chewed up and ready to be spat out.
The paradox of course is that all this fear, self-loathing, and talk about the inability to create, plays out on an album that very much exists. Snake Sideways is therefore, in a way, a celebration of triumph, an arch message of hope and acceptance threading the needle through all the anxiety and introspection. And this emotional conflict is every bit matched by the music, which is at once feverishly agitated and the most melodic Do Nothing have released.
Few things in life are clear cut and few things turn out exactly how we imagined. Do Nothing’s album goes a long way to capture life’s beautiful messiness in its totality. For a debut record, that’s quite some feat, no?