A New, Yet Familiar Sound
The English rock band Wire have enjoyed an illustrious career that has spanned across five separate decades. Since their debut album Pink Flag was released in 1977, Wire have worked to craft their unique, digitally-affected brand of punk rock music. While their record sales were never overly lucrative, Wire’s influence on a new wave of punk rockers is undeniable. And, even more impressively, Wire continue to reinvent themselves, pursuing fresh ideas with each project without ever truly losing their distinctive sound and character.
Wire’s latest offering, Nocturnal Koreans, sees the band building upon their 2015 eponymous work. In fact, this new release was actually recorded during the same sessions that produced Wire and, perhaps as a result, certain stylistic similarities do exist between the two albums. However, while its predecessor embraced wild energy built on distorted power chords, Nocturnal Koreans embodies a different attitude – one propelled by an enigmatic blend of whirring guitars and subtle electronica.
Throughout the fleeting, eight-track album, Wire masterfully supplement their guitar hooks with a dense, rich smattering of synthesizers. The individual harmonies themselves are rather static. For example, the verses in “Pilgrim Trade” offer two simple iterations of a C-major chord, whilst periodically adding a second power chord to keep the listener off balance. “Internal Exile” maintains the same descending four-chord progression throughout its entirety, merely introducing new instrumental textures – including a memorable brass hook during the song’s refrain. However, while these fixed progressions might sound tedious in theory, Wire adeptly structure them in away that is entrancing. There is a unique sense of anticipation that characterizes this album. Instead of merely enticing the listener with a barrage of infectious melodies and guitar hooks, Wire delicately and subtly layer instrumental textures in highly satisfying fashion. In this sense, the songs of Nocturnal Koreans evolve much like the band themselves: continually and gradually.
Yet, despite Wire’s relatively consistent compositional approach, they are still able to achieve a remarkable diversity of sounds on the album. “Nocturnal Koreans” offers a mesmerizingly upbeat track. “Forward Position’s” stripped-down sound is beautifully and mysteriously minimalist. The vintage punk sound of “Numbered” will appeal to fans of the band’s earlier work. “Fishes Bones” sees a more experimental manifestation of the band, as they layer eerily-spoken vocals over a hypnotic blend of instrumental textures. The band even produces an uncharacteristic, major-chord anthem with “Still.” Simply put, Nocturnal Koreans is about as varied an eight-track rock album as one will find. Each song feels strikingly distinctive, whilst always maintaining a certain abstract, ethereal quality that helps to thematically organize the album.
Nocturnal Koreans is definitive proof that Wire retain the creative magic that has defined the vast majority of their prolific career. They continue to experiment and expand their sound; yet they never delve into esotericism. Nocturnal Koreans has a bit of something for everyone. Perhaps its greatest and only flaw is that, at a mere twenty-seven minutes, it is a rather short-lived listen. Fortunately, though, for those hankering for more, Wire has fourteen more albums in their catalog for them to explore.