In a genre that’s floundered as consistently and considerably as emo-rap, it’s always good to have at least one kernel of hope among it all, and it looks like nothing,nowhere. is going to be that going forward. As much as Joe Mulherin has still disappointed in the past, he’s at least developed more as an artist to where it’s easier to see his appeal than the vast swathes of his contemporaries, and when that window has proven so exasperatingly narrow in emo-rap, it’s worth taking what you can get here. Of course, the bigger story with this particular EP comes from the collaborative element with Travis Barker, who does have a knack for latching onto more downbeat strains of hip-hop and offering a lot of distinct flair in his drumming that can do quite a bit. It’s a pretty natural team-up on paper then, and for a pretty brisk EP that feels like a thrown-out experiment more so than anything with significant weight behind it, there’s at least some form of expectation here, which is more than can be said for the vast, vast majority of emo-rap releases over the past couple of years.
And ultimately, it says a lot about the quality of both artists (relatively or otherwise) that for what’s effectively a side-project EP, Bloodlust is still much better than most of what emo-rap churns out, even while still having a number of flaws in its own right. They, along with a general sense of fragmentation that’s a genre-wide endemic, really do prevent it from elevating too much further, but there’s a sense that Mulherin is actually trying to do a bit more than the norm here, and with Barker’s assistance giving him a welcome boost, Bloodlust is a pretty solid little package. It’s not shooting for the stars, but when most emo-rap has a tough time even getting off the ground, that’s not exactly to its detriment.
It’s a good thing to, as in terms of songwriting, there’s unfortunately not a whole lot here that deviates from the stock template of wallowing in some form of undefined misery and vamping the melodrama up to almost unbelievable proportions. Granted, it’s easier to give Mulherin a pass here given the tight seventeen-minute runtime doesn’t allow for much experimentation, and there’s a weariness in his voice that can sell this haggard, dejected depression more easily than many (that is, when he doesn’t crank his vocals up to a thinned-out higher register like on Torture which just grates), but it’s disappointing to see a pool of content as shallow as this where, even among only six songs, there’s repetition in subject matter. True Love examines Mulherin’s addiction to a toxic relationship for the sole reason of wanting to feel human closeness, which is then repeated only one track later on Torture; meanwhile, the current of depression that underscores the entire EP never seems to evolve beyond a firm core of misanthropy that doesn’t have much depth to it. Like most of this stuff, it’s not thematically irredeemable, but there’s a lot more flair that could be brought to it, and while that’s definitely taken into account with the quicker flows of True Love or the firmer structure and blackbear feature on Back2you, it doesn’t culminate in much else beyond that.
Where Bloodlust does shine as a solid EP, though, is in the execution, something that’s not unusual for Mulherin within emo-rap given his proclivity for deeper, more lush mixes and organic tones, but the extra sprinkles of detail that Barker’s percussion brings some much-needed diversity to a sound notoriously deprived of it. His influence does stem beyond simple drumming (see the rap-rock build of Destruction that easily the EP’s most propulsive and hard-hitting moment), but the almost seamless transitions between programmed and acoustic drums on the likes of Torture or Life Eater almost feel like the legitimising factor in deeming this a subgenre of rock and alternative music, and it creates a sense of resonance and humanity that a lot of stiffer, cut-and-dry emo-rap production is simply unable to replicate. What’s more, it feels like a natural fit for the smoky, smouldering guitars simmering away in the background, and the blurred-out production that can actually facilitate a more ominous vibe when everything else is tied together. The whole thing is much richer and more developed, and even the odd hiccup (i.e. the unnecessary AutoTune on True Love) doesn’t stop Bloodlust from being a far more appealing listen than many of its contemporaries, even just on paper.
That’s not to say that Bloodlust is revolutionising emo-rap or finally establishing it as a worthwhile subgenre all on its own, because it most definitely isn’t; it’s still more than happy to conform to the usual regulations that really does feel like a disappointment when the opportunity to break out of the homogenous production line has largely been seized elsewhere. That does cool the whole thing down a bit, but more vibrant instrumentation and production that’s more than just emo in name sets this on a decent course all the same, and Mulherin and Barker hit their collaborative stride with impressive ease and frequency. In a scene that’s frequently been defined by low-effort, low-energy melodrama without anything solid to back it up, it’s refreshing to see a release that’s at least doing more in part and forging a foundation that’s a lot more auspicious for what’s to come.
For fans of: Wicca Phase Springs Eternal, Lil Peep, Post Malone
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Bloodlust’ by nothing,nowhere. & Travis Barker is out now on Fueled By Ramen.