Album reviews: Nothing, Nowhere – Trauma Factory and Isaac Dunbar – Evil Twin

Roisin O'Connor and Rachel Brodsky
·3-min read
<p>US artist Nothing, Nowhere</p> (Dan Brown)

US artist Nothing, Nowhere

(Dan Brown)

Nothing, Nowhere – Trauma Factory


“I’m f***ing sick of writing all these sad songs,” Nothing, Nowhere sang on his unfiltered 2018 album Ruiner. Judging by the follow-up, Trauma Factory, he’s got his appetite back.

The American artist, born Joseph Mulherin, is often labelled “genre-less” or “genre blurring”, but Trauma Factory fits very neatly into classic emo rap tropes. In fact, more than a few of these songs border on parody, with titles such as “death” and “exile” and lyrics including: “I’ll be in the graveyard if you need me.”

What initially made Nothing, Nowhere somewhat unique among the hordes of “Soundcloud rappers” who emerged in the 2010s appears to have vanished. His 2017 debut Reaper was built around tender guitar motifs that would mesh with stuttery trap beats. There is some of this on Trauma Factory, but it’s been mostly sidelined in favour of vocal melodies that frequently sound like playground rhymes.

Mulherin has spoken openly about struggling with a panic disorder, which is to be admired, but the album’s themes of despair and pain often lack nuance. He also appears to have layered effects on his voice to the point where it sounds virtually indistinguishable from his many peers. Mulherin’s debut made him stand out in a crowded field. Now he sounds intent on blending in. ROC

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Isaac Dunbar – evil twin


Gen Z have more pop cultural inspiration from which to choose than any generation before them. One such pop upstart, 17-year-old Isaac Dunbar, has made impressive use of his myriad influences. Critics seem to agree on Dunbar’s innovation, describing the Massachusetts native as a “wunderkind” and drawing aesthetic comparisons to electro pop player Troye Sivan and the similarly wry Billie Eilish.

Dunbar, who broke through in 2019 with a highly self-aware and thoughtful take on what it is to be young on the single “freshman year”, is unbound by genre on his latest EP evil twin, expanding his brand of bedroom pop into the hip-hop sphere on skittering singles like “rendevoux” and “pink party”. Earlier, his droll sense of humour rolls out on the bouncing, crisply delivered “fan behavior”, which looks at how “the tables have turned” now that the admirer (Dunbar) has evolved into the one who is admired. Later, Dunbar’s pop sensibilities return on “love, or the lack thereof” and the midtempo ballad “kissy kissy”, again demonstrating this performer’s succinct chameleonic style.

When Dunbar has described his influences to the press, they range wildly, from 1980s art-pop leaders like Kate Bush to college-rock standard-bearers like Yo La Tengo to contemporary pop royalty like Harry Styles and Lady Gaga. It’s a tricky balance, to have this many ideas and still successfully home in on a succinct sound, but Dunbar gets it right, and then some. At only seven songs, the delightful evil twin is likely just the on ramp to Dunbar’s vast highway of incoming pop stardom. RB

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