Having reached an era of music where the concept of genre is slowly fading out of existence, it’s not uncommon to find albums made up of tracks that sound nothing like one another. And while the idea of ‘incoherence’ may be considered by some as a negative, in many cases it’s telling of an artist or band who isn’t afraid to push boundaries, often leading to some of the most interesting music in the industry to date.
nothing,nowhere. (aka Joe Mulherin) is one example of an artist who excels at curating this mishmash of sounds, pulling influence from any genre that takes his fancy in order to tell his story. Within the confines of ‘Trauma Factory’ you’ll find rock, rap, pop punk, post-punk and electro-pop, and at no point do you feel n,n. is being anything but authentic to himself and his craft.
Opening with the album’s title track, a deep, American voice explains that “human life is a trauma factory”, setting a dark yet somehow freeing expectation of what’s to come. Those who know n,n.’s work well will know you don’t press play on his music if you’re looking for a good time – you come here to lean into your feelings, riding a melancholy wave until you land, a little battered and bruised perhaps, but ultimately safe on the shore.
While still lyrically impactful, ‘Trauma Factory’ feels less hard hitting that nothing,nowhere’s previous work in an emotional sense. Where his music was once driven by relentless depression, the trauma in question here is easier to digest – less likely to send you into any kind of spiral of your own. ‘love or chemistry’, for example, touches on a question many of us have when embarking on a relationship with someone you can’t keep your hands off, and the repetitive ‘Exile’ addresses the struggles many artists face while always being on the road and away from home. These issues are relatable but not devastating and, perhaps for the first time, we see a spark of hope for Mulherin being able to pull himself out of the darkest holes in which he often found himself.
For the first few tracks, the record is sonically hit and miss, but from track six – the pop punk / alt-rock ‘upside down’ – right through to the final notes of the unexpectedly perfect album closer ‘barely breathing’, there’s little but greatness to be found. The excessive use of autotune in ‘pain place’, which features the wonderful MISOGI, somehow only adds to the already stark emotion of the track, while ‘fake friend’ hits you with more real instruments than synths for the first time as you embark on this unapologetically and marvellous pop punk journey.
The real stars of the show, however, come with the next three tracks, and you’d be hard pressed to find someone who disagrees that these are the best tracks of Mulherin’s career so far. The raps that caused us to fall in love with nothing,nowhere. are back with a vengeance in ‘death’ – a track that’s easily comparable with (and hear me out here) Rage Against the Machine. Super dark and making great use of varying vocal techniques, this is the heaviest track n,n. has ever written and it is phenomenal. A track as great as that needs to be followed by something equally strong, and ‘pretend’ steps up to the challenge with ease, taking us back to his ‘ruiner’ days and forcing you to reflect on your need to be needed, even if that means someone is lying to you about their feelings. Where ‘pretend’ slows your mind down, ‘blood’ gets your heart racing and – in keeping with the track’s title – you can feel the blood pumping through your veins as n,n. works with feature artists KennyHoopla and JUDGE to complete this trio of absolute greatness, one that Mulherin should be endlessly proud of producing.
This record is an interesting one to critique, not least given that nothing, nowhere. addresses the media almost directly in ‘real’, touching on how he pretends not to care about the words of others, making you feel directly responsible for his state of mind at times. Putting the burden of responsibility aside, however, you can’t deny that Trauma Factory is sonically all over the place – but that doesn’t come close to meaning this is a bad record. Every track has something so undeniably familiar that ties it all together and, frankly, even if it didn’t, why not use this weird and unpredictable time to write a weird and unpredictable album? Mulherin has been brave here, something that should be commended, and the result is a confusing concoction of overall greatness that will surely become home to some new all time favourite tracks.