Sad-Synth Geniuses EXNATIONS Drop New Single "Knife"
We can’t hide our love for EXNATIONS. You probably know that already. But just in case our worst nightmare comes true and we learn that they don’t love us back, the Brooklyn-based sad-pop trio have got a song for it.
Last summer, EXNATIONS dropped their debut EP, Tiny Sound In The Dark, garnering an unwavering fanbase desperate for more angsty emotion to yell about on the dance floor. We got our wish on Valentine’s Day with the band’s newest single, “Knife,” a bittersweet ode to first loves — bitter for the unraveling but sweet for the experience.
“Knife” opens in a wild blaze of dazzling multi-instrumentation. From the get-go, we’re trapped in the swollen push-and-pull of searing synth and pounding percussion, a whirlwind of sonic detail. It’s a dynamic introduction, but it bows out for a more minimalist arrangement pulsing beneath edgy vocals. Every once in a while, frantic synth beeps and complex strums slink back into the foreground but they know when to hang back, too, so that every few seconds is a seamless transition from desperate, creeping dark-pop to those explosive moments of anthemic synth.
Everything about “Knife” has been treated with the utmost care — the subject matter we all feel residual pangs of, the careful layers of keys and percussion, the way the vocals know when to reach a little higher. Hearty with emotion, “Knife” is the love-lost sad-synth anthem we never knew we needed but now can’t live without.
The Music Mermaid: You guys released your debut EP, Tiny Sound In The Dark, over this past summer. What has it been like to ride the wave of releasing something so special and so close to your hearts?
Taylor: It’s hard to put it into words. I hadn’t been a part of a project that released a culmination of work in years so I was so hungry for it. This is also a style of music I’ve always wanted to play but never had the like-minded humans to build it with. It’s been really encouraging to see everyone’s reaction to our EP; I think that’s what pushed us to write the second one so quickly. We’ve never been more excited and hopeful [and we] can’t wait to let you in on the new stuff!
TMM: You dropped a new song on Valentine’s Day, a tender take on love that doesn’t last. Can you talk a little about the writing process behind “Knife”?
Sal: This one was in the works for a very long time. It started when I got my first analog synth — a Korg Minilogue. Maybe it was the retro tones and synth tones I was experimenting with on my first test drive of my new toy, but something had me feeling nostalgic. The original version of the song was much different. We were still figuring out who we wanted to be as a band at this time — we were trying to find the balance between our influences — the punk, the synth-pop, the new-wave, the emo. “Knife” was originally skewing more punk -rock, more guitar, acoustic drums, muted power chords. We shelved the song as we felt it didn't quite fit with the direction we wanted to take the band. But the bones of it were all there — and we loved it too much to let it go. Taylor is really responsible for reshaping the song into the form it is now. She had a vision for the song that elevated it in every way possible, and we absolutely love the end result. We hope you love it too!
TMM: “Knife” seems like it’s one of the more personal explorations from EXNATIONS, not just because of the subject matter, but because of how carefully you’ve unfurled the release and how you couldn’t bear to cut it from your arsenal of songs. What does this release mean to you?
Sal: Typically my lyrics are pretty closely tied to personal experiences, but this time I wanted to tell a story. I went with something based on my experience, but universally relatable — the feeling of drifting apart from your first love. In a way, going this route actually made the song feel more personal — it gave me license to detach a bit from the specific nuances of my experience and go for something deeper, something more elemental that anyone could connect to.
TMM: Storytelling is super important to EXNATIONS — you’re making pop music to dance to, but there’s so much more to it. You tell stories. You highlight specific emotions. Is this kind of narrative treatment something that the band has agreed is important to actively pursue or is it more of a lucky coincidence?
Sal: My favorite songwriters are the ones whose perspective and viewpoint on life is so unique that it almost feels like its own language. My favorite songwriters — Conor Oberst, Jenny Lewis, Elliott Smith, and Bruce Springsteen to name a few — they use language and tell stories in a way that is instantly recognizable as their own. The way the story unfolds, the vocabulary, the meter and rhyme — it's their own, through and through. By extension, it makes the listener feel like they almost "know" them. That's something I'm continually striving for as a songwriter. I don't think I'm anywhere near mastering it, but with every song I get a little bit better.
The Music Mermaid: Similar to your skill of storytelling, you’re also in tune with your branding. You recognize that your music is as much a business as it is a passion, so you’ve managed to nail down a color palette, tone, etc which is something not all musicians know how to do. It’s impressive. What do you hope to reveal about EXNATIONS through your branding? What’s your personality as a band?
Taylor: Thank you SO much for noticing! I take pride in the band being a very multidimensional unit, so we all have our own roles and specialties and we’ve figured out how to meld them together to create the best product. Passion and business go hand in hand so naturally for us because we’re also very passionate about the business side of the industry. Creating a feeling with visuals to partner with our sound is one of the most exciting parts for sure.
Itching for more music magic? We’ve got you covered. Follow The Music Mermaid below.
P.S. We’re selling stickers! Get yours here.
Featured photo of EXNATIONS by Adele Sakey