NATION OF LANGUAGE – ” A Way Forward “

Posted: July 9, 2021 in MUSIC
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We’ve got some news we’ve been very eager to share, and the day has finally arrived. Last year, Nation Of Language released their debut album Introduction, Presence in the middle of May — just in time for frontman Ian Devaney’s thirtieth birthday, and right around the time we were starting to creep out of lockdown and see each other again. This wasn’t the original plan: It had been slated for April, and then pushed back thinking they might still get to play a release show in May. Of course, that didn’t go as planned either. Little of the last year and a half has, and you can only imagine the amount of up-and-coming bands who got cut off at the knees, releasing albums that represented years of hard work and incremental growth and then not being able to tour behind them.

First thing’s first: album 2 is coming your way. It’s titled “A Way Forward” and will be out November 5th. The first single, “Across That Fine Line“, is out now .  the Brooklyn trio — also featuring Devaney’s wife Aidan Noell on synths, and bassist Michael Sui-Poi — have become noticeably bigger, selling out shows around the country. Also on the other side of the pandemic, they have another new album already, arriving just in time for fans who have found Nation Of Language in the last year and hadn’t been able to catch them on the road yet.

A Way Forward” is the follow up to Nation of Language’s debut album, “Introduction, Presence” (2020). While much of the sounds on the band’s previous record garnered comparisons to the synth-punk sound of the 80’s, on this new offering the band delved heavily into the Krautrock pioneers and electronic experimentalists of the 70’s for inspiration in the studio, stretching their boundaries in new and different ways.

“Introduction, Presence” was a bold, bright tribute to the classic era of new wave, A Way Forward is often a blearier album, exhuming more primitive drum machines and synths and combining them with trippier ambience without entirely foregoing the danceability and muscularity the band displayed on their debut. You will have already gotten a sense of this from advance singles, particularly “This Fractured Mind” and “The Grey Commute.” But the band also held back some of the album’s best songs and biggest surprises for release day: the swooning head fog of “Miranda,” the haunting and sprawling “Former Self,” the psychedelic lovelorn daydream of “Whatever You Want,” another mesmerizing album finale in “They’re Beckoning.” Altogether, “A Way Forward” in some ways echoes its predecessor, in that each song stretches out in a different direction, chases a different idea. But at the same time, it feels like Devaney has crafted an album that has more of a complete arc to it, an album-length journey through listlessness and shadows and memories.

“In Manhattan”

IAN DEVANEY: I think it sets the tone in a nice way for me. There’s something more subdued about it. I often like when there’s a track that welcomes you into things. That one is very triangular in shape, it basically goes up and up and up and everything swells, then you build to this moment. It’s mostly about building up the emotion right away. It also helps because, similar to the first album, I like the idea that A Way Forward lives in New York. I like that the record has a sense of place around here.

DEVANEY: Although everyone thinks about whatever city they live in, because every city has a Division St. Especially Chicago.

“In Manhattan” has a lot I relate to. I feel like it comes from those early years living here where you are kind of reckoning with fantasy vs. reality — the “Strung along by a fiction/ Read it in a magazine” sentiment.

DEVANEY: “On Division St.” is definitely more of a romantic song, and this one is definitely more of a disenchantment thing. Reckoning with the expectation of what you thought it was going to be like vs. what it’s actually like, both in terms of a lot of things being harder and crummier than you think and the inaccessibility you can feel in so many ways. A friend visits for the weekend and by the end of it you come out like, “Where has all my money gone?” It feels like, in other places, it wouldn’t happen as severely.

I feel like I had to come to terms with the fact that I couldn’t just go out and have fun all the time. When you’re living outside of New York and you’re thinking of what it’s going to be like, I personally thought I was going to be out at bars all the time, having fun all the time, and it just isn’t. There’s still elements you can romanticize, but it’s basically realizing the board is just nothing like what you thought. Some things are great, and some things are not, but it’s often not how you expected it to line up.

“Wounds Of Love”

DEVANEY: To me it feels OMD-ish… there’s a bit of a more conscious decision to go for a kind of classic pop songwriting. That’s something they were able to do very well. The Kraftwerk thing was really that main riff. I wanted to write something that felt like it could be on Man Machine, and that got wedded with the pop song concept.

Originally it was meant to be a much more robotic song.

DEVANEY: It’s funny, I was just listening to a thing recently where they were talking about Kraftwerk and how it’s very cold and robotic but at the same time it’s kind of funky and they were trying to figure out how they were able to do that. When I first made it, it was only the cold parts of the Kraftwerk-ness. So then it was bringing in a bit of rhythmic synth in the background, to take the straight beat and give it a bit of groove.

“Miranda”

DEVANEY: I like to refer to this song as “The Great American Road Trip Song, Dirtbag Edition.” I was thinking about the Vampire Weekend song “Hannah Hunt” and “America” by Simon & Garfunkel. I wanted that sense of fuzzed-out traveling brain in the song. The protagonist is partially the worst versions of myself, partially a fictional character. It’s definitely a song about aimlessness and someone who can’t really commit to anything and doesn’t really have a good relationship to other people or the world around them.

 “The Grey Commute”

DEVANEY: I first started writing it in 2017, when the Republican tax plan passed. It was similar to how they were always trying to repeal Obamacare and once they actually had power they couldn’t do it. It was like the dog who caught the car, they had no fucking idea. It was just a talking point for all that time. Apparently with the tax plan it was the same sort of thing. They were like, “Oh, shit.” The thing that ended up passing was basically written for them by the CEO of FedEx. Just handed to them. After that passed, FedEx were owed money by the government instead of having to pay a billion dollars in taxes.

It was one of those things that was so frustrating. You’ll talk about policies you want to pass that shouldn’t be considered ambitious but people are always like “Well, how are you going to pay for it?” Well, that billion dollars is a good fucking start. I think, particularly, when this song was written — I go through periods of paying too much attention to the news that send me into these doom loops in my head. “The Grey Commute” is the only positive thing that’s come from those doom loops, creatively. I’ve never been able to write a song before that felt like it touched on politics that didn’t feel forced or cheesy.

“This Fractured Mind”

DEVANEY: This is the sad townie anthem. It harkens a bit back to almost the early days of Nation Of Language, when I didn’t really know it was going to be a band. I was just living in New Jersey and delivering pizza. The bones of this song were created back then, in 2014. It was still when I was a little more aimless in terms of how to achieve various styles with intention.

It had been thrown in the demo bin, and I found it again while we were making this record and was like “Oh, shit.” Not knowing what I was doing [back then], it’s a very motorik beat song [that worked for A Way Forward]. The synth sounds weren’t right, but if I changed them a bit it lived in that krautrock world. I could re-address the lyrics and flesh the song out and I felt like it could help serve the general album theme.

“Former Self”

This is the big left turn of the album.

DEVANEY: I wanted something that was not as regular kick-snare driven. I wanted to live more in synth music world. The synth arpeggio is what it’s about, and everything else is in support of that. It was written on acoustic guitar. I had just recently gotten a nylon string acoustic, and I was messing around with learning finger-picking. The arpeggio here is what I was drilling on guitar, and all these changes came to me while I wasn’t even really paying attention. It felt like something I wouldn’t have thought to do if I had been like, “I’m going to sit down to write a song.” Then I figured out all the notes I was playing and sent them to the synths and put it together.

There’s a fun aspect of this song, in the support percussion. Have you ever watched the Miyazaki movies, the Studio Ghibli stuff? In a lot of them, whenever there is some sort of large machine going, it feels like it’s a combination of machine sounds but also someone being like psssshhh-psssshhh. That’s something I was playing with in the rhythm of this song. Some of the sounds were just me. It’s both robotic and human at the same time. Also, one of the sounds in “Former Self” is the same sample as the big drum hit in “Indignities.”

“Whatever You Want”

DEVANEY: It lives in a similar space as “Across That Fine Line,” but it’s a bit more about obsession and being drawn to someone who is just not drawn to you. But still getting the thrill, that jolt, of realizing you’re drawn to someone. There’s a bit of a celebration, even if it’s not reciprocated — like, “Oh, I’m capable of this.” I feel like it always makes one feel youthful to be drawn to someone in that way.

 “A Word & A Wave”

In the press quote for this song, you said “A Word & A Wave” was about a person who tried to make everyone around them happy, but did little for themselves and ended up feeling spent and empty.

DEVANEY: Yeah, wanting to be there for everyone even if it’s in the smallest ways and just how draining that can be in the long run. Everything that the person is doing, they’re trying to keep everyone OK. They’re always watering their plant making sure that’s alive. In some sense, just being trapped by that.

In terms of me wanting the album to have a sense of place in New York, this is the one that doesn’t fit into that as much, in my own head. When I was writing it, I was picturing this person being in a small, warmly lit bedroom in Portland, Maine. That was why we went up to Portland when it came time to make the video. The only thing I knew about this song is that that’s where the person was in my head.

“They’re Beckoning”

This also began life as a vignette.

DEVANEY: That’s another one, that same feeling came up. Of all the songs, that came in the most uncooked. I really wasn’t sure it was going to end up on the album so it was like, “Yeah, let’s have fun. Probably won’t use whatever comes out, but we’ll see.” With each progressive step we took, I was like, “Oh, shit, that was cool. Maybe we do this,” and Nick would say, “If we do that, what about this, write some more words in this part.” You felt that joy of creation in the moment where you really never knew what the next step was going to hold.

Oftentimes that feeling of satisfaction you get in the studio is, at least for me, different than the satisfaction that happens when you’re in that writing mode at home before you get there. To have that sort of spontaneity happening in the other context was very electrifying. A fun thing about this song is it was composed based on the clicking of a heat pipe in my apartment. I recreated it. I think I tried to see if my mic cable was long enough for me to get from my computer but I couldn’t get over there. 

Discussing, Devaney added, “‘A Way Forward’ is an exploration of the band’s relationship to the music of the 70s, through the lenses of krautrock and early electronic music. We aimed to more deeply trace the roots of our sound, hoping to learn something from the early influences of our early influences. Experimenting with how they might be reinterpreted in our modern context – looking further backward to find a way forward. We drew a lot from the steady locomotive rhythms of bands like Kraftwerk and Neu!, while also looking to less-propulsive electronic artists like Laurie Spiegel and Cluster. The goal was to have a record that felt like a journey, like being on a train that gets lost in a colourful fog, and then suddenly bursts through into different landscapes. Thematically, some of those landscapes are familiar in their melancholy, but we also wanted to introduce celebration and joy in a way that hadn’t really been present in our previous album. Having these bursts of positivity felt like it gave the emotional low points more resonance, giving a stronger sense of emotional reality to the album overall.”

Recorded during the lockdowns of 2020, production on the record was divided between Abe Seiferth (who worked on Introduction, Presence) and Nick Milhiser of Holy Ghost!

There is a Rough Trade Exclusive LP and CD with bonus CD featuring 3 exclusive alternate versions of album tracks and 1 remix from Nick Milhiser (of Holy Ghost!)

1. A Word and A Wave (Alternate Version)

2. In Manhattan (Alternate Version)

3. Miranda (Alternate Version)

4. A Different Kind of Life (Nick’s Dub)

To pre-order A Way Forward, you have a few choices: we’ve partnered with Rough Trade to create an exclusive blended red/blue colored vinyl, which also comes with a bonus CD of alternate versions of four songs, available nowhere else.(For our friends in the UK / EU, this is probably going to be the easiest way to get your hands on the record – as many of you know, shipping from the US can be a killer.)

On our website you can find a coke-bottle-clear colored vinyl (as well as traditional black), where you may notice that we have a new shirt available as well.

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