Album Reviews

Wire – Nocturnal Koreans


The term seminal might get thrown around too much these days, but when used to describe post-punk legends Wire, it almost seems too humble. In many ways, the group are an anomaly amongst their peers. For starters, over their majority of their thirty-year career they’ve managed to retain the same line-up, avoiding the unfortunate stigma of being a glorified vanity project for singer Colin Newman with a revolving door of musicians, desperately vying for some kind of relevance. In fact, the group has gone the exact opposite route, shrugging off any requests to do retrospective tours of their first three, completely unmissable albums and instead have tried to make the constantly redefine what a Wire song is. There is a clear pioneering spirit that fuels this group and their most recent LP, Nocturnal Koreans, is a testament to that. A mini album devoted to b-sides (or side cuts) from 2014’s Wire sessions, Nocturnal is a moody, foreboding album about ennui and the loss of emotion. While it never fully escapes its b-side connotations, it is still a fine addition to an excellent back catalogue.

From the word go, it’s very clear that texture and mood were the central focus points for these songs. Where in the past Wire might have opted for a blunt, heavily distorted guitar-driven assault, these eight songs are more nuanced. There is an overriding sense of foreboding and coldness that colours every song, best heard on ‘Pilgrim Tale’, a slow, almost lumbering slice of dread. As the hooks are left to the side, the band find interesting ways to create their atmosphere. The most obvious of these is the use of vocal filters on every song. These filters combined with the pointedly apathetic vocals create this barrier between the listener and emotion at the core of the songs as though they can’t even muster the strength to beg to be heard. It also feeds into the sparse arrangement of the songs. ‘Forward Position’ is a haunting piece that has been stripped back to the bare essentials. When the song does build it’s mostly to create this subtle dread and the only constant is a metronomic pulsating piano. The mixing of the album too adds to this sparsity as every instrument feels like a completely separate entity that has forced to exist alongside the others. Adding to this is the blurring of the role of the guitar. Synthesisers are prevalent at all points of Nocturnal Koreans, but by modulating the guitars to the edge of recognition another layer of humanity is removed. The album feels like the halfway point between the Manic Street Preachers Rewind The Film and Futurology albums and this is best exemplified on the very Manics ‘Internal Exile’ and ‘Numbered’. The issue with this disc, however, is that it lacks the heft to match its texture.   

While it does do a fantastic job in establishing its mood and tone, Nocturnal Koreans is, ultimately, an underwhelming experience. Clocking in at a little over thirty minutes and only eight tracks to its name, it feels very much like an afterthought that was spun into something slightly bigger; a mini album of B-sides isn’t a combination that inspires confidence. There simply isn’t enough to delve into and the band’s attempt to add extra flourishes often leads to the songs becoming far too busy to be enjoyable, as is the case on the title track. Not helping this matter is the fact that some of the cuts are straight up lacking as is the case with ‘Still’ and ‘Dead Weight’ which have flickers of genius but are marred by disappointing choruses. The real killing flaw is the choice of an album closer. The decision to use ‘Fishes Bones’ to round off the album was poor. It’s a mildly interesting song that has neither the weight or intrigue to justify its position. It concludes the disc in a way that leaves you unsatisfied and wanting more, which in many ways is the album in a nutshell. Will Murphy

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