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Nation of Language - Introduction, Presence Music Album Reviews

The synth-pop group offers a remarkably assured debut, with 10 pristine pieces that eschew dramatics for concision. 

After Ian Devaney’s first band—the polished, punk-tinged rockers Static Jacks—fell apart in the early 2010s, the singer sought comfort in recreating the synth pop of his youth. What started as a nostalgia trip would eventually morph into a proper band, expanding to include ex-Static Jack member Michael Sue-Poi and synth player Aidan Noell. The band took its time, trickling out singles piecemeal before finally releasing their debut album Introduction, Presence, four years after forming.
The time put in shines through; Introduction, Presence is a remarkably self-assured debut, 10 pristine pieces of synth pop that eschew dramatics for concision. Songs like “Rush & Fever” and “On Division St” reach the glory of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and The Human League through an attention to craft that many bands with the same influences fail to notice. The album is full of miniaturized synth flourishes and clear, crisp drum beats that were probably fussed over for months until they came out just right. Sue-Poi’s bass lines are the secret weapon, having learned Peter Hook’s lesson that the bass can be a powerful melody instrument.
Despite the shimmer, Introduction, Presence is a decidedly forlorn work, haunted by the ever-present specter of past mistakes and accumulated hardship. “I’m wasting away/I took the long road home and it never paid off for me” Devaney sings in the album opener “Tournament” in a downcast voice that echoes through the entire record. Yet while nostalgia and longing inform the album, they never consume it, and the band knows when to push forward. “Turn the pages/Try to find another way,” he sings achingly at the end of“The Motorist,” desperate to escape this moment in his life.

Introduction, Presence doesn’t offer any great reinventions. Notes of Altered Images, early Depeche Mode, or even modern contemporaries like Black Marble are impossible to ignore while listening. But their understanding of the genre they’re working in—its workings, tropes, and trappings—is so refined that they are able to boil it down to its barest essence, saving catharsis for just the right moment.

That moment arrives with the album’s final song, “The Wall and I.” It shines as their most anthemic cut through just a few well-placed, dramatic keyboard notes and some unexpected guitar chords. Devaney sounds just as trapped in his circumstances as he always does, but for once it feels like he might transcend them as well. “I stared up the wall and he said/‘I don’t know’ is not an answer to the question” he wails in the chorus, realizing he can no longer hide in indecision. Not necessarily a comforting epiphany, but fitting for an album built on making peace with the past, and taking small steps to something grander.

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