EP Review: Do Nothing - 'Zero Dollar Bill'
A live tour de force and living enigma in the studio, Do Nothing continue to dig a deeper pool of intrigue into their standout idiosyncratic blend of post-punk on debut EP ‘Zero Dollar Bill’.
With only three singles preceding the Zero Dollar Bill release cycle, the rise of Nottingham’s Do Nothing on both the gig circuit and the ever-expanding streaming pool of up and coming bands has been nothing short of faultless. Yet in retrospect, Waitress was a left-field debut single, with its brooding guitar lines from Kasper Sandstrøm and alluring vocalisations from frontman Chris Bailey resulting in a winding, unravelling anomaly on the indie rock radar. Handshakes, however, is an earworm, racking up hundreds of thousands of streams since its release in November 2018, all the while equally uncompromising in its schizophrenic emotional wheelhouse and lyrical conundrums.
"If Do Nothing can be said to have a sound, it’s the sound of a band to keep challenging assumptions for the duration of their time in relevance."
For anyone graced with the four-piece’s presence in a live setting, Gangs seemed like the truest realisation of the ‘Do Nothing’ sound; the character developed by Bailey on-stage came to life in a tale in a tale of rebellion and adolescence that the frontman continues to contend is about a messy night in Rescue Rooms. The two singles - Lebron James and Fits, released in December 2019 and February 2020 respectively – appeared to both confirm and consolidate such suspicions, but Zero Dollar Bill is a blend of every Do Nothing release to date; a sound with no desire to set boundaries any time soon, instead inviting the listener to push the boundaries of their own imagination with each listen.
New Life harks back to traditional post-punk more than any offering here yet pushes the most boundaries. Bailey is noticeably more considered – he still raves in the guise of his lost, stumbling stage presence, but the vulnerability in the track is evident from the get-go. The foremost remarks “Everything is fine the way it is” inevitably set themselves up to be tested as Sandstrøm halts the bulk of the guitar work to allow Bailey to rue “I left my money in my other jeans”. The band transitions shades of Interpol into contemporaries The Murder Capital to match the emotional dichotomy, Bailey switches between soothed singing and restless ranting, and underlying it all is an insecurity and paranoia scarce in prior releases; a periodically wavering denial that the status quo will simply no longer suffice.
"Bailey has a way of placing syllables, phrases, idioms and paradigms in a manner that transforms them from necessary groundwork for a galvanising chorus into hooks in their own right."
Denial turns to acceptance that turns to chaos on the following track. Contraband is the hysteria after an eternity of undue suppression, its duality making for arguably Do Nothing’s most conceptual track to date. Raucous guitars and tempting hi-hats courtesy of Andrew Harrison introduce Bailey’s latest character portrait – an established figure facing more critique and exposure than ever (“I will not make any more mistakes now that the world is watching”). Such a portrait alone would more than make for a great post-punk song – Lebron James is about conmen and was yearned for by fans as ‘the groovy one’ for months before release - but Contraband is so much more. The narrator’s convulsive longing for a way out is soundtracked by In Utero-esque noise rock just after the halfway mark, and leads into an ending in which the earlier narrative is mirrored by the anxiety of a long-term commitment to another – “Would you still love me if my hair falls out?/Would you make sure I don’t do too much and die?” Such concerns could easily be recontextualised into that of a rapidly rising musician or an untrusting Hollywood star; the beauty is that the listener gets to decide which, or neither.
Demonstrating the band’s sheer songwriting prowess, Fits is as direct as Do Nothing come, a universally relatable checklist of the mistruths told throughout childhood, reincarnated as the ferocious bitterness in Bailey’s voice. It’s also the most complete Do Nothing song to date – the now trademark formula of quotables, references and enigmas built up into a mosh-pit inducing climax is gifted with chorus guitars reminiscent of The Jam and Bailey’s gorgeous falsetto, scattered at unexpecting intervals. The frontman has a way of placing syllables, phrases, idioms and paradigms in a manner that transforms them from necessary groundwork for a galvanising chorus into hooks in their own right, regurgitated by fans at shows merely as a product of their stickiness. It’s a talent that goes a long way to expounding Do Nothing’s success above a multitude of contemporaries.
Immediacy without complicity is the mantra on Comedy Gold and Lebron James. The former is a mission statement, a World’s Fair-like showcase of the various facets of the band’s sound before the fully realised product ahead, while the aforementioned Lebron James has proved a discography classic since release, its Simpsons and Fyre Festival references revealing themselves as components of a crime drama cinematic with each timeless playback.
After over two years of single releases, listeners may have expected Zero Dollar Bill would be the eventual answer to the question ‘What does an extended Do Nothing release sound like?’ In a genius move, it responds to the question with a few of its own; inklings which grow into subjective lyrical puzzles with no solution in sight. If Do Nothing can be said to have a sound, it’s the sound of a band to keep challenging assumptions for the duration of their time in relevance. Long may it last.