Review Summary: Falling asleep to Happy Feet
Is it any surprise that a band called Do Nothing would sound subdued? I suppose not. But the Nottingham post-punk 4 piece’s earlier work featured a different brand of absurdist anhedonia - more aggression, swinging out blindly in the hopes of feeling something
Indeed, Do Nothing established their base formula early on with their first EP, Comedy Gold
. Singer Chris Bailey would bring in his supercharged mixture of exaggerated croons and venomous spitting (take this in the best way possible), on top of heart palpitation-inducing syncopation and hyper-concentrated swagger. “Lebron James” exemplifies this with the meanest bassline you’ll ever hear. Glueland
, the following release, brought down the energy level a touch; however, this suited its chilly, frostbitten atmosphere.
Do Nothing’s lyrics have always been a curious blend of abstraction, absurdity and surprising bluntness, their meaning completed by Bailey’s choice of enunciation. More often than not, Snake Sideways
paints pictures of socially withdrawn figures destined to work for nothing, with inklings of self-awareness but no means to change their circumstances. “We worked for a long time / Now we’re coming home with our dicks in our hands”, Bailey sings delicately on “Moving Target”. Death is presented as the mundane conclusion to tragically uneventful lives: “I’ll stay at home / And watch a movie / Then accidentally die / Licking a butter knife” (“Fine”). Indeed, Bailey goes as far as to proclaim with a disarming gentleness “Yeah, go ahead and die / You don’t have to be afraid / ‘Cause I got a good feeling about it” (“Ivy”).
is clearly the result of an intentional choice to create something more “mature”, in the sense of trading youthful anger for jadedness. Much to my disappointment, however, this choice has translated into something of a flatline with respect to album sequencing. The album drags in the middle as well as during particular tracks - disappointing for a band that made “Lebron James”. The stretch from the title track to “The Needle” is mainly defined by slow and sleepy tracks, with “Fine” breaking out into a merely adequate callback to the band’s more energized moments. The last minutes of the title track and “Hollywood Learn” meander into nowhere in particular, outstaying the welcome that their otherwise interesting off-kilter rhythms would have received. Put simply, you might feel a little blue-balled.
The best tracks of Snake Sideways
manage to interrupt its sleepy pace.“Happy Feet”, in tune with the theme of the movie, is delightfully danceable and all the more entertaining for its ridiculous lyrics. Having not watched its namesake movie, I didn’t understand why the line “I fall asleep, laying on the sofa watching Happy Feet” was so hilariously disturbing until I learned that Happy Feet is a hallucinogenic CGI quasi-horror. Once you’ve seen the dancing, singing penguins, you will understand why it is meaningful that the narrator in “Happy Feet”, living a dead-end life with a bullsh*t job, is capable of falling asleep to the movie. “Amoeba”, with its slamming bassline, recalls the swagger of days gone by; “I am the first unnecessary man in space” is a simultaneously a prideful boast and a bitter realization. “Sunshine State” closes the album out with a subtle bite that arguably rejects hopelessness as an acceptable answer. “What is done / Is done / Is done / And that is that” is just a little too silly to be a serious statement - it’s an attitude being satirized, not endorsed.
It’s all a shame, because Snake Sideways
is in some ways still a competent, intriguing representation of 21st century late capitalist malaise. Overall, I think Do Nothing are still a cut above the many other British post-punk bands that go for a leaner and meaner sound (in contrast to, say, more recent Squid or Black Country New Road); with their songwriting chops, out-of-left-field lyrics and Bailey’s distinct voice, they’ve managed to carve out a niche for themselves. I’m optimistic that they’ll retain it.