The world was a very different place when Do Nothing shared their debut EP, Zero Dollar Bill, in the Spring of 2020.
Britain was experiencing a post-punk renaissance. Spoken-sung witticisms and wonky guitar-work reigned supreme as the soundtrack of choice, as we settled into the novelties of the first few weeks of lockdown: a Corona-cation set to the beat of Dry Cleaning, Squid and Folly Group.
Do Nothing more-than held their own within this tsunami of new artists, armed with Chris Bailey’s wry songwriting. Understated, lyrically astute songs such as ‘Handshakes’ and ‘Contraband’ retained their whip-smart edge whilst leaning into a willingness to swell into endorphin-teasing crescendos, making the Nottingham outfit one of the most endearing and engaging new acts in the country.
The downside of releasing a debut EP which catches momentum and sparks imagination to the extent that Zero Dollar Bill did is that it can leave its creator low on inspiration when the time comes to craf their subsequent debut album. Just ask Birmingham indie outfit Peace, whose 2012 Delicious EP launched a thousand whispers that they were to be the next big thing.
The answer as to whether Do Nothing are, or ever have been, eyeing up ‘next big thing’ status is obscured by the band’s perennial outcast demeanour. One thing we can say for certain, however, is that Snake Sideways is not an attempt to create a collection of Indie floor-fillers. This selection of tracks runs deeper; masquerading, in many ways, as a second or even third album – the sound of a band trying to rediscover the essence of who they are.
In lieu of festival singalongs, Snake Sideways revels in its eye for world-building and atmosphere. And tracks like ‘Ameoba’ and ‘The Needle’ exude a charming 3am solitude; tie loosened and jacket slumped limply over a chair.
Album highlight ‘Moving Target’ is up there with the best that Do Nothing have ever produced. One of the few moments throughout the release where Chris Bailey truly bridges the space between himself and the listener, the track epitomises the knack that this band have for wearing their vulnerabilities on their sleeve without a hint of maudlin self-indulgence.
Elsewhere, a glimmer of synth hidden within Snake Sideways’ titular song and a subtle drum machine in ‘Fine’ both serve to showcase some sonic evolution from Do Nothing’s earlier work. But, whilst Bailey proves that he is still capable of spinning an engaging turn of phrase, there is a spark missing.
When they first arrived on the scene, Do Nothing forged a beautiful juxtaposition between the swelling, grandiose delivery of their compositions and the beans-on-toast realism of the world in which their songs took place. Snake Sideways is packed with the potential to be a grower – it may even become a future classic in time – but this is an album which rings with the sound of a band struggling to find their place in a changing musical landscape.
There is surely too much value in Do Nothing’s raw materials to discard the Nottingham quartet alongside face masks and rapid flow tests in the box of Covid throwbacks, but, besides a handful of promising moments, this value is not coming to the fore on Snake Sideways.