Nation of Language: Strange Disciple ([PIAS]) - review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Nation of Language

Strange Disciple


Sep 18, 2023 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Let’s state the obvious. Sonically, Nation of Language sound like the world’s greatest New Order cover band. Their third album, Strange Disciple, joins the band’s flawless discography of New Wave revivalism: another perfect blend of Depeche Mode, The Human League, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, and all the other UK artists that built the foundations of synth-pop throughout the 1980s. These points of inspiration are not subtle: frontman Ian Devaney even stated that he started Nation of Language after hearing OMD’s “Electricity.”

And yet, for as much as Nation of Language draws from the cold, reverb-forward pop of the New Wave, it never feels like pastiche. They are not the Greta Van Fleet for goth-adjacent New Romantics. And to make music that is wholly reminiscent of the year 1982 and still be authentic, colorful, and captivating is a remarkable feat. Maybe it’s the way Aidan Noell’s synthesizers jut, shimmer, and morph across each song, equally rhythmic and candy-coated with hooks. Or how Alex MacKay’s basslines add the urgency of a high-speed chase like on the phenomenal “Stumbling Still.” Or maybe it’s the way Devaney sings—truly, unabashedly sings—through each song, pushing his voice through every note with simultaneous sensitivity and force.

Nation of Language sound like the ’80s, but their impulses and tasteful selectivity is as fresh as anything else this year. In a music culture fueled by nostalgia-hits, sample cycling, and interpolation, Strange Disciple is revivalism done honestly and done right.

Strange Disciple—their best album yet—finds Nation of Language tackling obsession and desire, from the media-fixated “Too Much Enough” to the romantic adoration of “Weak In Your Light.” Devaney is defeated by these fixations on “Surely I Can’t Wait” (“I give up, I give in”), and bartering on “Stumbling Still” (“Oh but Jesus, what I would give/Just to be wanted again”). Devaney’s voice delivers these spurts of obsession in ways that do right by his forbearers Robert Smith and Bernard Sumner.

They sound warmer and rounder than on 2021’s A Way Forward. The synthesizers glow and warble on “A New Goodbye,” and there’s more oxygen in the mix on the mid-tempo “Swimming in the Shallow Sea” than much of their older material. But Strange Disciple still has the anxious pulse of their previous albums, and they channel that energy into the infectious dance track “Sole Obsession.”

The closest contemporary comparison for Nation of Language isn’t their fellow synth-pop champions like Future Islands or MGMT. Rather, the trio have the kind of alchemy that’s reminiscent of another trio that works in the space between dance, pop, and indie: The xx. And like The xx, Nation of Language impress these lustrous electronics with heart-on-the-sleeve passion. For a band that owes so much to the ’80s, their ethos couldn’t be more modern. (

Author rating: 8.5/10

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Average reader rating: 8/10


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