Nation Of Language – ‘A Way Forward’ review: a magical synth-pop exploration

The Brooklyn trio have built on their beautiful debut by drawing on the genre's early pioneers to make an instant synth-pop classic

Nation Of Language could have walked right out of the early ‘80s with their 2020 debut album ‘Introduction, Presence’. That record rolled up every flash of brilliance from the golden synth-pop era, while also embracing elements of post-punk and new wave along the way. The Brooklyn three-piece impressively channelled the giants of the game with every ounce of their spirit and soul.

Conceived when we were all looking to move forward from lockdown misery, the band sought freedom and solace in looking further back when creating its follow-up, ‘A Way Forward’. Speaking to NME recently, frontman Ian Devaney explained: “If I directly look at these bands that so influenced new wave music: what can I take out of them that might be different to what everyone back then took?”

It’s evident that his studies have paid off, given the wondrous programmed synth heard in opener ‘In Manhattan’ which provides an immediate hint of the impassioned exploration ahead. This pattern unfolds in vivid technicolour: it’s fuzzy and nostalgic, but also pure and inventive all at once. There’s a sense of poise about Devaney’s lyricism too as he yearns: “In Manhattan, you cannot have it all.”


While their debut drew on the liberating sounds of New Order, OMD and Japan, Nation Of Language’s second LP thrives by leaning on the earliest formula of synth music. ‘Wounds Of Love’ is built upon a stark industrial synth line that’s straight out of the Kraftwerk manual – undoubtedly the overarching influence this time around. It’s Devaney’s malaise that provides the band’s own stamp on this sound, though, as he agonisingly asks: “Can I ever get past the wounds of love?

It’s hard to single out the most magical moment on the album, but ‘Former Self’ comes close: a soothing ballad that offers a moment of stillness as Devaney’s angelic vocal floats above a melodic organ. Elsewhere, ‘Miranda’ strays into equally moving territory as it opens up into a dreamy synth refrain that could be this generation’s ‘Neon Lights’.

This devotion to decades gone by, as well as a playful spirit, is evident throughout the record. Take the understated disco bassline of ‘The Grey Commute’, which leaps forward into brighter ‘80s ground, or ‘Across That Fine Line’, a triumphant anthem that’s powered by a sense of urgency and vitality. It can’t have been an easy task bettering their debut offering, but Nation Of Language have here – and, in turn, they’ve delivered a true modern-day classic of the synth-pop genre.


Nation of Language - 'A Way Forward'

Release date: November 5


Release label: PIAS