“All hail my dog,” That’s the surreal mantra that animates Do Nothing on their debut album, Snake Sideways. On the long-awaited release, frontman Chris Bailey finds frustration and fear closing in on him with deadlines creeping closer and little to show for it. The meta-adventure of the album is him writing his way out of writer’s block and coming out the other side with the band’s most vulnerable and revealing moments so far. Described by Bailey as Do Nothing’s’ most experimental work to date, it’s an anxious and introverted album that offers an arch message of hope through some of the band’s most melodic songs yet. All without losing the absurdist, deadpan lyrics and frenetic energy that endeared them to fans in the first place.
The band started making music as teenagers living in Nottingham, eventually taking a year off to regroup and reset with a more honed style. A pair of EPs, 2020’s Zero Dollar Bill and the following year’s Glueland, established Do Nothing among an exciting crop of new British bands huddled loosely under the post-punk banner. Bailey had big ambitions for the first Do Nothing album, though, and even in early interviews was stressing the importance of always evolving. This desire to change, twinned with the time-freezing pandemic that impacted early stages of writing, raised more questions than it elicited answers for the singer and chief songwriter. The resulting feeling was that of a creative stutter; a disconnection between intention and end product.
Like any good writer, Bailey found a way through the weeds and began putting it all down on paper. Snake Sideways isn’t merely an album about being unable to write an album, though. Across its ten tracks it interrogates feelings of tying identity to a vocation, the sense of letting others down, precarity of dreams, and the inescapable prison of self-criticism. These themes are perhaps most evident on “Happy Feet,” a devilishly pretty moment built around guitarist Kasper Sandstrom’s delicately strummed acoustic and more jagged electric switches. Bailey describes his lyrics on the song as being “super unglamorous” and there is something stark about hearing him admit, “I’m not gonna dress it up, today didn’t go so well.” In the past he might have hidden behind metaphor or a deep-cut Simpsons reference but the album steers unashamedly towards naked honesty.
Bailey jokes that he felt like “a little rat man” while writing the album as he and the band found themselves unable to use the rehearsal space they worked from. While waiting for work to begin on the premises, he snuck in at night to chisel away at the lyrics. As this task grew ever larger in his mind, he began to wrestle with the idea that the album would simply not happen and that the band would end as a result of his creative impasse. That tension is felt on songs such as “Nerve,” a woozy ballad that begins with Bailey crooning the line “They’re gonna fire you in the morning.” It’s also there in “Amoeba,” an anxious creep of a song delivered from between “England’s teeth,” chewed up and ready to be spat out.
The bigger picture to this cards-on-the-table thinking is that Snake Sideways is shot through with a message of hope and acceptance. There’s no cheap self-help sloganeering but a greater sense that perseverance and a little kindness can go a long way. It’s right there in that “All hail my dog” line, taken from “Hollywood Learn.” The idea of a canine deity might be amusing to think about but to Do Nothing it
represents something more profound – celebrating the everyday realities and not judging yourself based on dream scenarios.
Snake Sideways stays grounded throughout and avoids straying into myopic territory, with songs including “Fine” and “Sunshine State” touching on themes of gambling and America’s response to the AIDS crisis respectively. The latter, one of the first songs Do Nothing wrote when they started the band in its current form, references the artist Keith Haring in its depiction of an anger that leaves you shaking.
The elephant in the room is that all this fear, self-loathing, and inability to create, plays out on an album that very much exists. Every second of Snake Sideways is, therefore, a celebration of triumph over this paradox. It’s also a mark of the friendship in the band, rounded out by bassist Charlie Howarth and drummer Andy Harrison, and their decades-long bond. Nothing in life ever turns out quite how we imagine it and Do Nothing capture that journey in its totality here. It’s a bumpy ride but one that finds a band finally at peace with their own imperfections.