Steadily taking their notion of anguish to larger and larger audiences, the upward trajectory of Brooklyn based NATION OF LANGUAGE has been astounding in less than two years.

On the back of their second LP ‘A Way Forward’, they went from London’s modest Lafayette to the XOYO while in support their new album ‘Strange Disciple’, they will rise up to Heaven. It was in Spring 2020 that NATION OF LANGUAGE’s debut album ‘Introduction, Presence’ arrived in a Covid stricken world. But despite that and the anxiety captured within the music influenced to varying degrees, sometimes blatantly, by German kosmiche and British post-punk synth such as OMD’s ‘Electricity’ and NEW ORDER’s ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’, there were feelings of hope and honesty that rang home to those listening.

By the time of the second NATION OF LANGUAGE long player came along in Autumn 2021, songs with infectious synth hooks like the lead single ‘This Fractured Mind’ became instantly relatable as people re-emerged post-pandemic. Meanwhile, NATION OF LANGUAGE had developed into a compelling live act, Ian Devaney the anxious energetic front man with his wife Aidan Noell playing the sexy synth minx while their then- bassist Michael Sui-Poi played solidly as if he was in an alternative rock band at another gig.

Since then, Alex MacKay has taken over four string duties and continuing the momentum for this third record, Nick Millhiser of the acclaimed duo HOLY GHOST! and live band member of LCD SOUNDSYSTEM has been brought in as producer to steer the recording process into as many analogue techniques as possible.

Themed around “toxic infatuation”, the new album has been fittingly titled ‘Strange Disciple’ to explore the dark side of love and romance. Taking a sedate start despite the KRAFTWERK ‘Autobahn’ influence, Devaney reminds himself he’s in love and ‘Weak In Your Light’. But then it’s back to business with a more sophisticated sequencer sound than before on ‘Sole Obsession’, a song about “an overzealous devotee” augmented by live melodic bass, sparkling synths and electronic percussion in that chugging NEW ORDER fashion.

Over a subtle machine beat, ‘Surely I Can’t Wait’ captures a bewilderment over paradoxically sparkling keyboard patterns and synth sweeps that could be “just another love song” but Devaney seeks help to “show me I can live for another”. ‘Swimming In The Shallow Sea’ enters shoegaze territory as the most guitar-oriented track on the album although bursts of detuned synths make their presence felt.

With a lead synth line that recalls ULTRAVOX’s ‘Slow Motion’, ‘Too Much, Enough’ is hook laden with many layers while its hypnotic drum machine backbone is a delight. ‘Spare Me The Decision’ is rousing new wave pop, accessible yet eerie with howling sirens, a great bubbling synth solo and white noise percussion while ‘Sightseer’ takes a breather into the realm of THE CURE with a “come on kill me please” highlighting the despair and resignation.

‘Stumbling Still’ enters JOY DIVISION territory and ‘Isolation’ in particular in its crashing rhythmic construction but the process is given that characteristic NATION OF LANGUAGE spin. But starting simplistically and with restraint, ‘A New Goodbye’ then snaps into something much blippier and funkier in its final third and even throws in falsetto refrains to add a new dimension.

Photo by Dominik Friess

On the home stretch, ‘I Will Never Learn’ sums up life’s trials and tribulations in a wonderful example of why NATION OF LANGUAGE appeal so much in their glorious mix of synths, live bass, sequencers and electronic percussion while a girly falsetto howl is a haunting but beautiful touch.

For those who enjoyed ‘Introduction, Presence’ and ‘A Way Forward’, ‘Strange Disciple’ is more of the same if delivered at a less frantic, more thoughtful pace. This is a record that capitalises on past achievements, both of their own an others, with equal doses of heartbreak and hope. Those who are seeking a band who can be seen as spiritual successors to the much missed MIRRORS need look no further.

‘Strange Disciple’ is released on 15 September 2023 by PIAS in black or clear vinyl LP, CD + digital formats

NATION OF LANGUAGE UK 2022 tour includes:

London Heaven (27 September), Brighton Concorde 2 (28 September), Bristol Marble Factory (29 September), Nottingham Rescue Rooms (30 September), Manchester New Century Hall (4 October), Leeds University Stylus (5 October), Sheffield Foundry (6 October), Newcastle Boiler Shop (7 October),

Text by Chi Ming Lai
12 September 2023