Review: Nothing,Nowhere.'s Tormented Emo-Rap Shows Hip-Hop's Post-Modern Evolution

Our take on 'Reaper,' the Equal Vision debut from the Vermont songwriter

Nothing,Nowhere.'s Equal Vision debut is 'Reaper.' Credit: Greta Rybus/The New York Times/Redux

Vermont musician Joe Mulherin, a.k.a. Nothing,Nowhere., lies at the intersection of hip-hop's evolution into post-modernism: emo-rap and SoundCloud trap, self-righteous bitterness and self-pitying opiate blues, melody and harmony emphasized over sharp-witted bars and tricky rhyme schemes. There's precedent for his uniquely tormented work, whether it's Yelawolf's cathartic country-rap tunes on 2015's Love Story and Eminem's choruses on "Not Afraid" and "Cleaning Out My Closet"; or, more recently, XXXtentacion's emotionally stunted 17 and Lil Peep's narcotized Come Over When You're Sober. However, Nothing,Nowhere. doesn't require an antagonist – a wayward ex-girlfriend, a pernicious drug addiction – to prompt his agonized, suicidal feelings. His anger seems largely internalized, and directed at himself – at least most of the time. "I hope you choke in your sleep," he sings angrily on "Clarity in Kerosene," a track from his new album Reaper. "I'll be the last that you see."

Reaper, his first album for Equal Vision and Pete Wentz' DCD2 finds him tonally evoking the glory years of 2000s emo-punk without necessarily replicating it. There are no churning guitars and pummeling drums à la Taking Back Sunday, just a laconic, atmospherically picked guitar line or two. The skittering, drill-like percussive patterns of "Houdini" will ring familiar to Zaytoven fans, while the billowing laptop cloud washes that hover throughout are a hallmark of producers like Blue Sky Black Death and Clams Casino. On "Houdini" he sings verses in a half-bounce flow before breaking into an echoing squall on the song's bridge. But on "Funeral Fantasy," he raps hard, and spits bars like, "Give a fuck about a SoundCloud rapper/Give him two years and the cloud won't matter/And I hate it so I'm working in the shadows/See you rocking Gucci but you look like an asshole." Despite his own success on that platform, he wants to separate from what is quickly become a scorned industry cliché: the anti-musical, "lean"-addicted SoundCloud rapper-misogynist-doofus.

Nothing,Nowhere. isn't a revelatory rapper or singer, but seamless blend of the two that makes Reaper stand out. He tends to flick between the two like a light switch, shifting from bars to anguished singing on "Black Heart" as he cries, "You're just another reason why I stay inside/Just another reason why I hate this life." There's a cameo from rapper Lil West, who drenches his "REM" vocal in Auto-Tune. More importantly, emo elder Chris Carraba of Dashboard Confessional appears on "Hopes Up" to lend his imprimatur and let us know that, yes, this is the real thing.