All three albums produced by Nation of Language have been impacted by the pandemic. So its intriguing to learn that all three are touched by the theory of motion, each relating to a different mode of transportation. Their debut ‘Introduction, Presence’, released in 2020 takes place in a car, with perhaps a longing for road trips referenced in song titles like ‘Automobile’ and ‘The Motorist’. The follow up, 2021’s ‘A Way Forward’, occurs on a train, influenced by the minimal canter of Krautrock on songs such as ‘The Grey Commute’. Which brings us to new album ‘Strange Disciple’ which is informed by walks of various cities while on tour or within their home city of New York. This seems fitting as the world has opened up again, and we want to feel that reconnection.
The album opens with ‘Weak In Your Light’ a love song, all gently bobbing synths. Soaring and with a pace which is calm and welcoming. Moving into ‘Sole Obsession’ however, the themes of Strange Disciple start to become more evident, that of obsession and infatuation. The pace lifts and with it the intensity in both the lyrics and instrumentation. ‘Surely I Can’t Wait’ takes the impact of such intense feelings to another level:
“Truth is better off I know,
but I can’t stand the pain.
Rake yourself across the coals,
then you start a love song.
I give up, I give in
end result? I find that I’m competitive”
‘Swimming In The Shallow Sea’ allows for introspection, and showcases the vocal range of Devaney which reaches both high and low. This is followed by the wonderful ‘Too Much, Enough’ one of the highlights of the album. The electronica is at the forefront here, full of layers of sound all combining perfectly to create a lightness in the soundscape. Ironically the track refers to the bombardment of negative news cycles. Perhaps ‘Too Much, Enough’ is a reaction against it, pushing back with its request of “that’s enough”.
‘Strange Disciple’ was produced by Nick Millhiser (live member of LCD Soundsystem and also one half of Holy Ghost). The commitment was to keep the process as rooted in analog gear as possible and printing the tracks to tape. Such is the craft of Nation of Language, the trio looked to accept limits and surprises, just as in the live experience.
‘Spare Me the Decision’ is a call to escape having to make a conscious decision to change. We tend to look for the path of least resistance, and so often that means continuing rather than making a shift. Latest single ‘Sightseer’ has an echoey Vangelis style to it, expressing the possibility of moving forward. This is a track full of hope for the future. Being rooted in one spot is not the only option in life. ‘Stumbling Still’ opens with a guitar riff and introduces a track full of bounce. The danciest track on Strange Discipline, it’s an utter joy. ‘A New Goodbye’ expresses the struggle of the challenges of life. An honest expression of the difficulties such challenges can bring.
‘I Will Never Learn’ is an intriguing end to the album. Devaney has admitted it didn’t occur to him that this was perhaps a negative close, but rather it provided a loop back to the beginning. However perhaps it’s a reminder to learn the lessons life presents to us. A thought-provoking consideration to end on.
Devaney is joined in Nation of Language by Aidan Noell, and Alex MacKay, and in ‘Strange Disciple’ they have produced an album exploring the challenges of the human condition. Life is a journey of self-discovery, with all its highs and lows. Experiences are both positive and negative but its these very experiences that allow us to grow. Wrapping these themes in the beauty of the synth laden world of Nation of Language allow us to break free, thrilling in their soundscapes.
Words: Julia Mason