Nothing More Carnal

Nothing More – Carnal (Album Review)

Nothing More 2024

San Antonio Alt Rock outfit Nothing More got their start in 2003, but really saw their stars align in 2009 with the release of their album, The Few Not Fleeting which featured vocalist Jonny Hawkins taking the lead. After this, their self-titled breakout major label debut album, Nothing More (2014) saw them skyrocket to the forefront of the Rock world’s attention with its lead single, “This Is The Time (Ballast).” Since then, the band has seen incredible success with follow-ups Stories We Tell Ourselves (2017) and Spirits (2022), and three Grammy nominations.

Now, after ten years and a slight line-up change, the Texas quartet currently consists of Jonny Hawkins (vocals/synth/effects), Daniel Oliver (bass/backing vocals), Mark Vollelunga (guitar/backing vocals), and Ben Anderson (drums). Their next studio album, Carnal, comes out June 28, 2024 via Better Noise Music and promises to deliver Nothing More’s signature sound with a more visceral,  commanding presence… but does it deliver?

Carnal opens with its eponymously named track featuring harmonious ambient sound with accentuating synths and dreamy vocals from Hawkins stating, “Everything is better when you’re dreaming…” This is followed by the insertion of snippets of dialogue by Writer and Philosopher Alan Watts. Watts’ presence will become a theme throughout Carnal. His philosophies revolved around adapting Eastern philosophy concepts and extracting quality experiences in life through universal ideals, social ethics, and the various pathways to spiritual actualization and discovery of the self. So, for those familiar with Nothing More’s previous work and Hawkins’ fascination with philosophy (see their previous albums that feature excerpts from both Watts and Eckhart Tolle, for example), this comes as no surprise. 

Next up is “House On Sand” featuring guest vocals from Eric Vanlerberghe (a.k.a Eric V.) of  I Prevail. Here Vanlerberghe’s screams rip through the otherwise bouncy and melodic track adding a dynamic contrast to Hawkins’ usual brand of grit. The debut single off the album, “If It Doesn’t Hurt,” features the band’s signature blend of melody and power. It’s vicious percussion and Oliver’s sickening bass line add a heft that drives the track. This is before “Angel Song” opens with a similar sickness in the bass and chord progressions which is fitting, because it also features Disturbed’s David Draiman. The ethereal layers in the chorus of this song add an intentionally choral ambiance that adds an eeriness. 

“Freefall” follows with its heartfelt lament for understanding and rescue. It is here that Hawkin’s lyrics reflect the sense of feeling lost, alone, and rudderless. It is these themes and feelings that tap into a universal experience, as many people can understand these feelings of isolation and desperation. The pace of this song runs like the erratic thoughts in a person’s head as they descend through their plight- quick and building in some areas while still being lofty, airy, and cascading. “Blame It On The Drugs” is a torrent of emotions that explores pain, suffering, addiction, and mistrust. It’s desperate and heartrending yet defiant.

Next, “Existential Dread” gets directly to the point right away. Who among us has not experienced a moment of cold sobering reality wherein the fragility of existence hits you like a freight train? If we are honest with ourselves, we have all felt the transience of life and shuddered at the thought of it. In a world where most people have the whole world available in the palm of their hands and you can have anything with the click of a button, does it really matter? Life is fleeting and here Nothing More is telling us to pay attention to the world and experiences before us because “we’re here for a moment and then it’s the end.” It is catchy, anthemic, and easy to get caught up singing along to before the message sinks in (think Third-Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life,” a song about doing crystal meth with an upbeat tempo that sounds so happy, because it is meant to emulate the high of being on drugs). Similarly, the listener can easily get caught up in the crashing sonic waves and tempo diversity in this song before the lyrics sink in and they are left to consider what they have just taken in. The orchestration, lyrics, and psychological implications made this one of the more interesting tracks on Carnal

“Heart” is another ambient track that prominently features an excerpt of Watts in which he discusses the importance of “going with the river”- effectively going with the flow to not fight your fate, and end up on the journey you’re meant to take. The orchestration here is grandiose and swells before receding, like a river which leads directly into the next track aptly named “Down The River.” In this track, the band expands on the concept from Watts’ previous excerpt about learning to let go and being ushered on by the unrelenting momentum of life. 

Later on you have “Give It Time” which is a beautiful ode to hope and wading through the pain of life for the better days ahead. There are some lovely chord progressions here courtesy of Vollelunga and backed by Anderson’s poignant percussion like a heartbeat. “Sight” is another Watts-laden interlude that leads to “Stuck,” a nasty tune that opens with heavy guitar and gritty screams. It’s rough and dark and heavy, and aided by the screaming, Hip Hop influenced contributions of guest vocalist Sinizter. If there’s one song sure to churn up the mosh pit, it’s this one. Lyrically Sinizter and Hawkins explore feelings of stagnation and a strong desire to carve your path. It’s nasty in all the best ways from the synth effects and jagged guitar sound to the vicious vocals and hammering percussion with a bridge that remains true to the band’s style.

“Run For Your Life” sees the band rehashing a repetitive theme and expression we encounter throughout the album, Everything is better when you’re dreaming. Everything is better when the world fades out.” The body of the song has an oceanic quality that is echoic and pressurized in turns. Beautiful and haunting then swelling and immersive. It closes out with a synth-laden instrumental that creates a surreal vibe as the song fades out. 

Lastly, “Sound” officially closes out the album with more excerpts from Watts on the concept of ‘holiness’ versus ‘goodness.’ This is a meditation on how holy people are not necessarily good people and vice versa. At one point Watts says, “Good people aren’t necessarily holy people…And so there’s always something slightly scary about holy people and so other people react to them in strange ways. They can’t make up their minds whether they’re saints or devils.” This feels like the synopsis of the entirety of Carnal– the eternal battle of self between holiness and goodness, completeness or brokenness, surviving or thriving. 

One thing Nothing More excels at is finding new ways to make their audience think. Just when you’re about to get lost in the music and the production, something from the lyrics hits you out of nowhere. Both on stage and on record, the band has established themselves as thoughtful entertainers and Carnal is another continuation of this reputation. With infectious hooks, orchestral composition, and cerebral lyrical contemplation, Nothing More doesn’t just make you feel, they make you reconsider the concept of self and unique experiences. 

What does it mean to be alive? What constitutes awareness and can you be overly aware of your own existence? These and so many other thoughts come to mind when considering the material on Carnal both from the band and from Watts. This is an album that warrants its own experience and multiple listens from start to finish. Some fans may be turned off by the depth of the philosophical rhetoric incorporated and the touches of religious contemplation in Watts’ excerpts, but they aid in the listener’s immersion into this realm of thought which informs your perspective on the entire album. Good art make you feel, great art makes you think, and with Carnal, Nothing More has managed to do both. While there are moments where things don’t feel as ‘in flow,’ overall, Nothing More has created a work that is introspective, insightful, and yet emotive. For that, CrypticRock gives Carnal 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Nothing More - Carnal
Nothing More – Carnal / Better Noise (2024)

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