If you needed evidence that great music will always pull through and find a way to be heard, Nation of Language are that evidence.
Releasing their first two albums (2020 debut Introduction, Presence and 2021 follow-up A Way Forward) at the peak of the COVID-pandemic, Nation of Language could have easily faded back into obscurity as quickly as they emerged out of it. Yet through seemingly nothing more than word-of-mouth recommendations alone, music fans started to discover the dazzling indie-pop being crafted by the New York-based trio. Quickly building up a cult following of devoted fans, they emerged out of lockdown an unstoppable force, putting on enigmatic live performances whilst boasting an enviable collection of nostalgia-soaked synthpop anthems. Now in just three short years, they have gone from album No.1 to album No.3 and, if Strange Disciple is anything to go by, they are showing no signs of slowing down their momentum.
On this latest opus Nation of Language very much give the fans what they have come to expect from them, which is retro-inspired tunes in the vein of great bands like New Order and OMD. There are no radical sonic direction changes, so if you enjoyed their first two records the good news is you’ll likely love this one as well. This is simply Nation of Language having now mastered their sound, taking it to grand new heights. Some of their finest tracks to date can be found here, songs of romantic adoration and unhealthy infatuations backdropped against playful synth melodies that just make you want to groove.
Opener ‘Weak In Your Light’ gets proceedings off to an exhilarating start, bouncing along on a minimalist synth beat whilst front man Ian Richard Devaney’s impassioned vocal performance steals the show. Spiritual title track and lead single ‘Sole Obsession’ is then one of the trio’s finest outings to date, with its infectious bassline, pulsating electronics and Devaney’s vocal tones once again gliding resonantly across the hypnotic sounds on display. It’s a stellar opening combo which will see fans old and new jiving with joy.
After that, the pace is slowed down somewhat with a couple of guitar-centric numbers. ‘Surely I Can’t Wait’ captivatingly waltzes around before ‘Swimming In The Shallow Sea’ borders on shoegaze at times, with its hazy, atmospheric guitars and echoey vocal passages. Recent single ‘Too Much, Enough’ then sees the trio take out their frustrations on doomscrolling and TV news overload, with the spiralling bassline, stuttering guitars and tumbling synths perfectly amplifying the message of exasperation found within the lyrics.
There is no mid-album slump to be found either as after a thrilling first half, Nation of Language just keep the highlights coming. ‘Spare Me The Decision’ is another career-best moment, with a meandering bassline and siren-like synths as Devaney achingly sings “You weigh on my mind, all night.” The guitars then takeover once again, as ‘Sightseer’ gracefully echoes in reverberating melancholy before ‘Stumbling Still’ injects the album with a scintillating rush, a track that sounds guaranteed to become an instant live favourite. ‘A New Goodbye’ then moulds together some delicate yet somewhat operatic moments with a catchy chorus, whilst closer ‘I Will Never Learn’ ties things all together with lyrics about being broken and imprisoned in a never-ending cycle of addictive obsession.
There is no doubt this is some of Nation of Language’s best work, with Strange Disciple coming marginally closer to matching the greatness of their debut than that of its (also fantastic) predecessor. That said, it’s an opening trilogy of albums most other bands could only dream of, and if there is one thing I would say going into the next record is I’d like to see how far Nation of Language can push their sound from this point.
Produced by Nick Millhiser (live member of LCD Soundsystem), the trio ensured their tracks were printed to tape, mostly recorded live using analog equipment. Whilst you can of course argue the minimalist feel and subtle imperfections on the recordings are part of their endearing charm, I am intrigued to hear how their music could be further amplified if they do decide to take things up a notch. It’s something for Nation of Language to think about but for now, let’s simply enjoy one of the most exciting new acts of the last few years operating at the top of their game, and crafting some of their very best songs to date in the process.