Every Boston band starts in a basement, but not every Boston band hopes to leave one. Bad History Month, a glum anti-folk act that formed there back in 2007, has never been concerned with fame. For starters, the band's music uses a combination of ribald jokes, effervescent self-deprecation and blunt existentialism focused on understanding oneself from the inside out in service of isolation — assuming the position of the middle school loner in the back of a classroom.
There's a deeply personal openness to this music, so much so that the main songwriter, Sean Bean, often changes his name to dodge attention. That commitment to high-grade introspection and the active avoidance of praise and criticism has helped generate the band's cult following. When media coverage picked up in 2013, the group released a split the following year... and then went into hiding.
So its return to music comes as a surprise. The lead single off the upcoming Dead And Loving It: An Introductory Exploration Of Pessimysticism breaks from the anxiety-laced jams of their past. The album is a musical self-help book about grappling with the meaning of life and various extensions of death-trip empathy — and "Being Nothing" details the moment when Bean realized there's no point.
The song opens with individually-plucked strings, the gentle work of someone treading lightly, as Bean tries, and fails, to go easy on himself. "I think, and so I am / But all my thoughts just say / 'You are nothing.'" His thoughts turn into a fistfight with himself, as he's eventually joined by Adric Giles on drums and Jesse Heasly on bass. The instruments swirl; a queasy pitch-knob organ gives the feel of retching, right as the epiphany comes into focus. "Then a light came on," Sean Bean sings. "I noticed that the words were true / just not the way I thought." Like the music warping behind him, the realization hits full force: Nothingness doesn't have to be the lack of something; it can be infinite space, enough room for anything to exist.
"Being Nothing" extends Bad History Month's sophomoric lean into newly merciful territory, giving the band's deadpan depression an expiration date, to make room for optimism, even if that optimism is dark in logic. It's a familiar thought — you can live freely because no set purpose has been given to you — that's as empowering as you make it. The realization prompted Bad History Month's self-help quest, and it may help others as well.
In that, like the rest of the band's work, "Being Nothing" is a message meant to be folded into a square, tucked into a pocket, and returned to in solitude during times of distress — only this time, Bad History Month hopes it extends beyond the basement circuit, in order to help anyone struggling at large.
Dead And Loving It: An Introductory Exploration Of Pessimysticism comes out Nov. 3 via Exploding In Sound.