Standing out in a crowd is nigh impossible in today’s music landscape. Not only is music-making more accessible but the competition is wider too. For Malvern-based alternative electronica duo Nexus Xiii, this means you aren’t just being judged by people in your local pub. You are exposed to a literal ‘band camp’ with your little tent fighting for recognition.
Nexus Xiii have achieved something quite rare in this landscape; to be different from everyone else. The formula starts with the influence of psychedelia and sci-fi, add the retro goth pop of Stranglers, REM, Psychedelic Furs, The Cure and Depeche Mode, then apply a narrative of connection and remorse.
The Haunted World, deals with life’s modern issues and calls upon memories of better days. To be clear, this isn’t a political album, but it describes the frustration of living in a negative era of capitalism, global warming and the rise of the far right, resonating well with the dystopian 80s sound.
The duo consists of welsh-born Clyde Martin on bass, guitar, synths and vocalist Jai Hill, known as poet and writer ‘The Bard of Malvern’ and also for fronting various rock and blues bands like Black Hill and Subterranean Fire. Jai currently lives in Istanbul, Turkey but touches base with Worcestershire via social media and regular visits home.
Over the last two years, Martin and Jai have been sending music files across the water to perfect their sound. There are 8 songs, which go from rousing and foot-stomping to moody and ethereal.
The opener After Hours kicks straight into the anthemic, perhaps from the flim ‘Pretty in Pink.’ It discusses a plastic world, where madness, war, and climate change are causing the narrator to lose his mind. It works well and merits being the tone-setting track.
Next up, All These Years sets a more emotionally intense tone. It’s about the importance of brotherhood and helping people through hard times. The groove is more fist in the air, with Jan Hammer style synths, and deeper guitar riffs reminiscent of The Dammed. Other standouts include the ‘love song with pathos’ Always For You, the dystopian Doubts and Fears or the more chilled Unseen.
Collectively the songs are as deep as they are intellectual, the music is as well constructed as it is genre-nodding. Regrettably, there are a few moments where the professional musicality drops, perhaps a line where the vocals aren’t clear, or a mismatched beat here and there. It’s a shame, but in many ways no different to how tunes sounded back in the day – part of the charm.
So this album definitely cuts deeper than a lot of the material we review in SLAP. It’s a credit to Clyde Martin’s skill that you can so easily name-check the 80s and 90s bands that influence Nexus Xiii, but to add a such a contemporary narrative is genius. The Haunted World transports you back to shoegaze guitar and pumping synths without allowing you to get too comfortable. The post-modern lyrics and the distinct talents of Martin and Hill bring a clandestine speaker-ripping energy to the sticky subterranean 80s dancefloor. Definitely a standout band.