It is November 2022, and Reykjavik is overrun with tourists and festivalgoers. Nation of Language, too, are in town for Iceland Airwaves. Over two decades, the Airwaves festival has developed into a hybrid situation—a major winter attraction in Iceland and a showcase for local talent, but also an event that can garner higher-tier indie names like Fleet Foxes or Flaming Lips as headliners. This year is a semi-tentative postpandemic toe back in the water, and amidst the smaller-than-usual lineup and pivot back toward a discovery-oriented format, the rising Nation of Language are one of the big international names anchoring the fest.

On the festival’s opening day, Nation of Language frontman/mastermind Ian Devaney and I are sitting across from each other in a courtyard, wondering exactly how in the fuck we ended up in Iceland together.

Every music journalist has heard the phrase “You should check out my friend’s band, I think you’d like them” a million times. Unless they are particularly bright-eyed optimists, most of them have met these words with dread, knowing that the night will typically end with the journalist making a dire attempt to feign positivity to their soon-to-be ex-friend with terrible taste. But when someone said this to me six years ago about a then-very-unknown Nation of Language, the result was far from the usual.

The first time I saw Nation of Language, they were playing to maybe 20 people in a small Manhattan club. I was blown away. By 2017, there had already been several cycles of ’80s revivalism. On paper, Nation of Language’s synth-pop could’ve been passe a few times over, but this didn’t sound like the typical retro fetish. Sure, it helped if you already liked new wave—they collided the best parts of that tradition, at times sounding like a darker Human League, a more visceral OMD, or New Order with bolder vocal melodies. Yet in that Manhattan basement, hearing them rip through their first singles, “What Does the Normal Man Feel?” and “I’ve Thought About Chicago,” time was collapsing. In the 21st century, there have been countless nameless bands that effectively scratched an itch just by faithfully re-creating this or that sound of the past. But every song I heard that night felt like a refraction, nostalgia not as indulgence but as a lens. A genre that was always characterized by its wistfulness and melancholy was now wielded by this trio as some layered deconstruction of our own modern drift.


You need to log in or subscribe to read on

Forgot username or password?




The Archive Collection, Mister Dream Whip T-Shirt


Boy Howdy! T-Shirts

Boy Howdy!

Boy Howdy! pennant


CREEM +001

Back Issues


What we’re listening to and other musings.
For free.