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Studio Milwaukee Session: Nation of Language

A man sings into a microphone on stage in a small performance space while a woman plays synthesizer in the foreground and another man plays bass in the background.
Kenny Perez

Does playing synth-pop on a regular basis forge bands with a magnetic stage presence, or do people with a magnetic stage presence naturally form synth-pop bands?

I found myself asking this chicken-or-egg question while watching Nation of Language’s Studio Milwaukee Session on a crisp fall Tuesday and simultaneously replaying a March visit from genre-adjacent Urban Heat. Like that springtime session, the Radio Milwaukee members in the room for Nation of Language were already bobbing their heads (and bodies) from the first wave of sound that hit during set opener “Weak in Your Light." Then, as the minutes went by and the trio on stage went to work, everyone seemed to lean in a little more intently.

Frontman Ian Richard Devaney swapped between a physically angular delivery at the mic — leaning in to match the crowd’s body language — and dancing in the background during vocal breaks. Aidan Noell rocked back and forth behind a wall of synthesizers, moving as much as her duties allowed. Alex MacKay cut an imposing figure on bass while providing a stoic, grounding presence.

Brett Krzykowski
Aidan Noell's synth setup.

Their physical presentation was a spot-on metaphor for their sound. Too much of any one of them would’ve thrown off the balance and pulled the audience out of the moment. Instead, they put together a performance that kept everyone in a groove and suggested good times ahead for anyone attending their Turner Hall Ballroom show Wednesday night.

They managed to find another gear on “Too Much, Enough” before pausing for a mid-set interview with 88Nine’s Dori Zori that included Devaney explaining the song’s origins (the 24-hour news cycle is a beast). The band also shared their secrets to healthy touring, Noell’s journey toward synth mastery and — with help from mixer Ian “Skinny” Salazar working the sound board — a very cool demonstration involving two sticks and a delay pedal. Then they wrapped up the on-air portion with "Sole Obsession," another selection from the recently released Strange Disciple.

You can use the player at the top of the page to hear the on-air version, which doesn’t include a bonus performance of “Swimming in the Shallow Sea” just for the Radio Milwaukee members in attendance. If you want to join them for any (or all) of our upcoming Studio Milwaukee Sessions, visit our donation page and become a member today.

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Set list

  1. “Weak in Your Light”
  2. “Too Much, Enough”
  3. “Sole Obsession”
  4. “Swimming in the Shallow Sea” (non-broadcast performance)