I’m sorry to heap misery on top of misery. If you’re the kind of person who follows this column each month, you’re not going to be thrilled to read me prophesise that there will be drastically less music released this year to distract us from harsh realities.
Unfortunately, I foresee the release scheduled being condensed by a pincer of two things. Firstly, and most obviously, artists have spent much of the last year separated from their collaborators and locked out of recording studios. Moreover, without the ability to tour new music and fully extract its monetary value, there’s limited appetite to unleash projects that are currently in the chamber.
Nobody will be surprised to hear that the only gigs I can envision us getting to in the medium term will be seated, socially distant performances that limit crowd size. And for sure the festival season this summer looks like high fantasy. (Someone might want to tell Longitude – incredibly, the Marley Park festival is on the calendar for July at time of writing, even if its socials have been silent for a couple of months.)
Mercifully filling some of the void will be the creatives who’ve been burning away the hours by making music in bedrooms, basements, and parents’ utility rooms. Neatly encapsulating this trend are Nixer – the new artist we’ll be distracting ourselves with today.
Having formed the project last April, Seán Keenan and Gearóid Peggs – buddies “separated by sea, producing remotely from Dublin and London” – have spent the longest year recording new wave tunes.
For the uninitiated, new wave emerged in the 1980s, in the wake of punk, with a more experimental bent than the synth and electro pop of the era. There’s storms of nostalgia in Nixer’s small batch of singles: a Johnny Marr guitar line here, a 1980s driving videogame electronic riff there, keyboards that sound like something out of a healing dream, a rush and a push of lush textures, and a fistful of floppy discs-load of throwback synth patches.
It’s a vision of the decade of excess that people too young to remember it, but who dug the soundtrack to Drive, like to envision. A retro slap from Nixer’s revivalist imaginations. Give me synths or give me blood. “Éire Wave”, says one of their press releases, but I’m not sure that one is going to catch on.
The most immediately striking element of Nixer’s sound is Keenan’s heavily accented vocals. Sitting alongside so many throwback elements that have a warm familiarity, his distinctive style can take a while to settle on the ear. It is an effective instrument, though, as he winds from a more melodious half-singing approach to something closer to spoken-word delivery. I was fully prepared to describe the song “True Romance” as the one weak point in Nixer’s discography, but the more I listen to Keenan’s deadpan depiction of an idyllic love affair, the more I am taken in by how unusual it is.
Then there’s “Your Days Are Over”. Over a rippling synth riff, Keenan talks his trash, displaying a flair for wickedly funny lyrics, sounding like a Dublin vision of Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant, walking the city streets: “The existential dread that lives in my head/It doesn’t pay rent, but has a double bed.”
Keenan’s vocals are generally dropped low in the mix, and so Peggs’ production can sound tightly squeezed. “Magnolia Mouth” has a guitar riff reminiscent of The Smiths that presses right down on top of the singer. This is homemade music with a pocket symphony vibe. It’s difficult to imagine these songs lighting up the radio but they are ripe for granular examination.
Nixer’s best song is their latest single, “Relax”, a song for a summertime we lost last year and may lose this year. The pair generally eschew the huge choruses of 1980s synthpop for more low key hooks, but here the chorus is a real earworm. “Relax in the womb of the Irish sun/I’m full of drugs, but I’m having fun/Lost all hope for a peaceful tomorrow/I need more fuel, have you some I could borrow?” Doesn’t that just sum it all up?
As a critic, it’s not smart to exalt new talent finding its way in the world too soon, but Nixer arrive with a well-formed sound. And with plans to compile all their singles into debut EP Afterglow in April, with an album slated for later this year too, they’ve an ambitious release strategy. These bedroom recordings are full of potential. Let’s see what happens when Nixer are exposed to the sun.