Nation of Language are too damn charming. I was gifted with catching their live show as an introduction this past October during Levitation in Austin. They were opening for Drab Majesty, and Boy Harsher, (both offered some of the best performances this year). I had never heard of them, and didn’t know what to expect. Usually my lack of awareness leads to apathy, but their stage presence was too infectious to ignore. As they ran through their catalog, the three Brooklyn hipsters bounced around stage dancing their heart out with an unrivaled chemistry. Every synth hit with warm sparkle, every beat was buttoned up and buoyant, and every note Ian Davaney hit was spot on. It completely won us over. It was simply dapper, and charming as fuck. Much to my enjoyment that chemistry continues to shine bright on A Way Forward.
Somewhere between Future Islands’ dramatic hyper-earnest presentation and LCD Soundsystem’s bleeding cool self awareness this trio finds a way to make every note sound warm, infectious, and danceable. It’s just such a ridiculously fun album to play back to back, with no filler at all. If you find yourself fans of that particular synthpop, I wouldn’t be surprised seeing A Way Forward creeping into your AOTY top 10 easily. The entire album could be plucked straight out of the ’00s indie dance pop scene that dominated the blogosphere back then. I’m biased, of course. In between all my consumption of dissonant metal, and hard ass rap shit, is a love for that vulnerability. I loved it back then, and still love it now, so it makes me really happy to hear a newer band making music like these days.
Usually employing one of two lanes: down tempo reflection, or warm dancey sheen, A Way Forward exudes a self acceptance that enables listeners to put their guard down. Particular tracks like “This Fractured Mind” and “Across That Fine Line” lean heavy on the bouncy and buoyant be-free-on-the-dancefloor sensibilities, while “In Manhattan”, “Miranda”, and “Former Self” slow it down for more intimate moments. It’s all very charming, and doesn’t ever get stale.
I find myself falling in love with the more up tempo tracks on the album. “Across That Fine Line” carries a chaotic good quality that sounds like what a new crush feels like. “This Fractured Mind” is probably the shining gem on A Way Forward. Something about Ian Richard Daveney singing what sounds like lines from his diary over that minimalist synth and drum machine duo makes it incredibly infectious and an instant stand out. I’m never one for reading too much into lyrics (the more cryptic the better), so I won’t postulate on what he is talking about, but with a title like “This Fractured Mind” and lyrics like ‘Do you think that I could simulate my life/ but done a better way/ in this fractured mind/ I get to feeling turned around/ and turned around again,’ it’s quite obvious the dude is going through some shit, and I’m here for all of it.
I have to circle back to one point I already made, and I cannot stress enough how fucking charming this trio is. Every time I hit play on whatever track, it all just soothes any eased tension like a warm hug, or being amongst a group of true friends. These folks are making music to get dorky to in the most self accepting way possible. It’s too infectious, it strikes too many nostalgia chords, but in the best way possible. If you need a visual, the video for “This Fractured Mind” should do the trick. Just look at those dance moves. No one is trying to be cool with those dance moves, but who the fuck cares? The shit just feels right, and I could watch Ian Richard Devaney dance like that forever.
Regardless of which mode Nation of Language employs, there is always a cautious ear for detail. Daveney’s harmonization constantly stay on point, and their exuberant playful interactive chemistry can be felt, and brings everything to a resoundingly infectious level. It’s a feat of a sophomore album that could have seen them falling by the wayside into a crowded landscape of half-hearted pop start-ups, and they knocked it out of the park instead. Hopefully the trajectory Nation of Language is on provides more fruitful offerings from them.
The past two years have been a hellish landscape of growing tensions that can be felt on an every day basis. All the bickering, infighting, while the ratcheting political climate is ever tightening, and everyone just seems on edge. It’s a lot to deal with everyday, but Nation of Language seem to say ‘fuck all that, let’s dance‘, and I’m grateful for it. I hope this lightning-in-a-bottle chemistry this trio has captured stays pulsating with that dorky charming self acceptance that makes me so goddamn mad because it makes me so goddamn happy.