Funny thing, grief. There might be an immediate gut punch of loss, but the full effects are often only truly recognisable with years of hindsight. The Nothing, The Last Dinosaur’s second album, allows singer/songwriter Jamie Cameron finally to give voice to the grief of losing his closest friend in 2005 after a car accident. The band’s first album, Hooray! For Happiness, didn’t exactly shy away from tough subjects, either, featuring the emotional upheavals of parental divorce and relationship breakdowns. If this all sounds a bit grim, perhaps the most delightful aspect of this band’s sound is that they seem to intuitively handle even the darkest subjects with a light touch. Their music is engaging, moving and comforting, perhaps even a tiny bit uplifting.
The multi-talented trio of Cameron, Luke Hayden and Rachel Lanskey manage to create an ambient warmth, a lightness to the band’s sound that honours the difficult subject matter without ever being maudlin or glib. Perhaps the heavily processed vocals help disguise some weaker areas, but there’s no mistaking the sincerity. Layer upon layer of instrumentation and effects are painstakingly applied until a vivid picture emerges, painting emotions in sound. Each song is a detailed yet semi-abstract emotional landscape.
Another thing about The Nothing is that, like a film shot entirely in flashback, it’s a story told in reverse order, starting off with ‘Atoms’, a reconciliation with the inescapable fact of death. The more ephemeral ‘Grow’ allows that memories, loving and being loved, sow seeds of persistence way beyond our material selves.
Almost like acts in a play, the album seems to fall into sections, each demarcated by instrumentals, the first of which ‘The National Stage’ features rumbling drums like distant thunder over a sheeny wash of piano and synth, with faintly tinkling windchimes.
‘All My Faith’ is an ethereal and dreamy memorial, with its insistent “you will be loved” mantra and handclaps. Mirrored by a similar hypnotic lyrical repetition is ‘We’ll Greet Death’, although here the tone is more existential and insistent. A spare, jabbing start with a low-mixed vocal and skritchy strings builds up to a sax-laden jazz-psychedelia.
‘The Body Collapse’ is a strange, shimmering instrumental with its piano patterns writhing sometimes in conflict, sometimes harmoniously, until a final sonic implosion brings everything to a disquieting halt.
The tiny, intimate, half-whispered vocal of ‘I Couldn’t Wait’ seems like a heartfelt song of literal and emotional running away. There’s a raw fragility exposed here as it gives way to the hauntingly mournful ‘Wings’.
In this final and tonally darkest section of the album, the cymbal sweeps and abstract vocal chorus of ‘On Water’ provide an aural depiction of the car aquaplaning at the point of the accident. ‘The Sea’ opens to the strange arthritic-cicada of a croaky click, before its spacious, echoey sound builds over a melancholy vocal, to unleash a huge emotional catharsis.
By contrast, the final track, ‘Goodnight’, is very sparse, directly addressing the events of the crash itself. It is sad and poignant in its simplicity. It’s a bold move to end on this downbeat moment, a moment that began a totally different story from the one the friends had planned on but, like The Who said in Quadrophenia, “the end is the beginning”.
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‘Atoms’ – official video: