Exnations is the Reason You're Crying on the Dancefloor

Gaelen Smith

One of my favorite aspects of music is its unique ability to convey two contradictory emotions at once. I find it fascinating when music can get you humming and tapping your foot to gleeful, catchy melodies and then pack an emotional wallop, leaving you with a lot to think about, man. The real beauty of this is that while lyrics may be expressing fear, dread, and the anxieties that come with occupying space in this world we live in, the upbeat music reminds you that it’s not all bad. There’s light at the end of every tunnel, and if there wasn’t, then tunnels would be called… something else. There are friends to laugh with. Favorite songs to listen to. Dancefloors to bust loose on.

That being said, if an Exnations song comes on while you’re on the dancefloor, you might have to convince your friends that the moisture streaks on your cheek are just from sweat.

The melding of contrasting emotions is a tight walk along a musical trapeze rope, and Exnations confidently strut across the line with their hands tied on their 2018 debut Tiny Sound in the Dark. Pulsing 80’s-inspired synths and brooding basslines command their way through the EP with a modern indie attitude that brings the sound to current day. With influences ranging from The Cure to The Smiths to Bleachers, the group isn’t only forging their own path, they’re also giving the feel-good song something to think about. “The goal of Exnations is to remain as authentic as possible, while showing our own natural flavor,” says the group’s percussionist Taylor Hughes.

On your first listen to Exnations’ single “Can’t Get Hurt,” you’d be forgiven for labeling it a “feel-good song.” The title “Can’t Get Hurt” implies invincibility, and its spring-loaded demeanor has the power to, legitimately, make you feel good. However, the second you realize the meaning behind the lyrics of the hook, “flightless birds can’t get hurt,” it might just hit you like a ton of bricks. What sounds like a danceable track with a carefree attitude can be interpreted as advocating the exact opposite, portraying the fear of failure and rejection. Putting yourself out there only to realize, hey, maybe you don’t have what it takes. If you never try, you’ll never find out, and maybe that’s for the best. However, it’s apparent that Exnations is cleverly warning of the hazard of not trying... the danger of the fear of danger, if you will.

While one might say that “Can’t Get Hurt” is a sad song masquerading as a pop song, I would argue that statement to be unfair. This song, like most of the songs off Tiny Sound in the Dark, manages to successfully do both at the same time. As someone who’s known to occasionally get too deep in their head, it helps to simply be reminded that the concept of fun exists. And if that reminder comes in the form of a poppy hook or a synth melody, all the better. And what poppy hooks they are; between the soaring chorus of album opener “Never About The Money” and hand-clap heavy, starry-eyed breaks of closer “Blank White” are groovy, slinging guitars that have a close, call-response relationship with the synths. Song topics may revolve around life’s obstacles, but the soundscapes maintain the triumphant attitude one might have after conquering those obstacles.

As said by the band’s frontman Sal Mastrocola, “As long as we’ve got the ones we love by our side, whatever’s looming on the horizon doesn’t really matter,” which is a statement that couldn’t align with the group’s music more perfectly. Exnations is about finding that silver lining in any situation and stretching it into a shiny skyline. In a melancholy dream with the neon color palette of a Nicolas Winding Refn film, an Exnations song scores the scene, only to have you humming the tune throughout the entire day after you wake up.


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