Nation of Language, a three-piece Brooklyn-based band, was recently called ‘the best synthpop band in the world’ (by Paste Magazine), selling out nearly every one of their US, EU, and UK tour dates; and now I know why. Because after seeing them perform live last month, they are now my new favorite ’80s band, only 40 years later.
On 11/11, the band kicked off their DC-based show at The Atlantis (a sibling of the 9:30 club) playing “Spare Me the Decision,” and soon after that “Sole Obsession,” the title track from their latest album Strange Disciple. Their unique blend of new wave and post-punk revival was so reminiscent of artists such as Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark/aka OMD, it felt like I was being transported to another lifetime, a flashback to a much younger version of myself. Between the sound of the music and the intimacy of the dimly lit venue, I felt nostalgic for the first time in a long time.
Front man Ian Devaney’s mesmerizing vocals and the pulsating synth and driving beats had the audience in a trance-like rhythm. Everyone was dancing and swaying, many singing along to every song. It reminded me of the days when I would play an album over and over again until I had all of the lyrics memorized. (Of course, I had to buy a vinyl after the show; it only seemed fitting.)
A good portion of the show was dedicated to the new album, which is incredible, along with some of their “older” tracks such as “This Fractured Mind,” one of my personal favorites. Once again, the lyrics and the music resonated deeply. Ian’s beautiful vocals and emotional delivery, combined with the charismatic energy of synthesist Aidan Noell (his wife) and the cool grooves from bassist Alex MacKay, made for a truly memorable performance.
D’you think that I could simulate My life, but done a better way In this fractured mind Fractured, fractured mind I get to feeling turned around And turned around again…
– “This Fractured Mind”
They closed out their set performing “The Wall & I,” from their very first album, and this time my vision of ’80s synthpop was reminded of the famed New Order. Their blend of post-punk and electronic music was integral to ’80s music. Looking back, I think their track “Blue Monday” sounded a bit like a futuristic time machine, and it has remained relevant even to this day.
In the time That it takes to open this wound Lay me down Tell me it’ll be different soon But I would like to find another way to find you here But I would like to find another way to find you here…
There is no doubt the Nation of Language is a spawn of these musical styles; however, they are also having fun and making it their own. They incorporate a modern-day sound and stories, such as in the track “Too Much, Enough,” which talks about information overload. (This was also a fan favorite at the DC show with fans singing along with the response, “too much.”)
One of my favorite quotes from Ian was from an article I found in Adhoc.fm, dated back to 2020. “One thing that I think happens nicely in some songs is that you can listen to them when you’re in a good mood and they can feed into that, or you can listen to them when you’re not feeling so good, and they can feed into that. So, you can kind of pull whatever you need out of the songs,” Ian Devaney .
I can’t wait to catch them again the next time they tour. Maybe by then, I will have all the lyrics memorized.