When it comes to leading the 1980s new wave revival, no one does it as well as Nuovo Testamento. A transnational project with members hailing from Los Angeles and Bologna, their most recent album, New Earth (2021), was a superb indication of things to come. That no-holds-barred Italo-disco new wave extravaganza set a high standard to follow, but the group’s latest – Love Lines – meets and exceeds it in every respect. It’s loud, brash, and optimistic, with synths that seize your soul and leave it convulsing on the dance floor.
That said, Nuovo Testamento don’t sound like a bunch of Italians relocated to Los Angeles. They sound like a bunch of Los Angeles techno punks relocated to 1981. Their sound has an upbeat insouciance, channeling all the aspirational innocence of the 1980s. After all, wasn’t 1980s music western civilization’s last gasp of optimism? It was the final era of innocence before all those technologies, wild dreams, and limitless visions set us on the path toward today’s dystopia of Elon Musk, nuclear rearmament, and AI-generated advertising; capitalism on autopilot.
No wonder we yearn for a simpler era. Love Lines reminds us of what it sounded like. The synths are simple and straightforward. That’s how it’s supposed to be. In the 1980s, the point of synths was simply that they were there. There was a certain cachet to manipulating them in unique ways, but there were fundamental limits to what the technology of the time could do. Yes, musicians of the period pushed that tech to achieve incredible things, but the confines within which they operated starkly contrast with today’s limitless computer-generated possibilities. And yet, there’s an authenticity to the analog synthesizer, a sense of verve and embodiment that even the most advanced digital technology cannot truly match.
Artists in the 1980s tended to fall into one of two camps: either they didn’t care what their instruments could do and used the tech to provide a backdrop for other song elements, or they applied themselves to pushing the limits of that technology in truly impressive ways. The 1980s-styled new wave artist today has a very different challenge: recreating that foundational sound in an authentic and original way, yet eschewing the now almost limitless possibilities of technology. There’s such a thing as too much. Thus making music becomes a matter of self-discipline, achieving the correct balance of synthetic harmonies to complement your music without overdoing it.
The 1980s artist who produced awe-inspiring synth lines was a master of technological manipulation. But the successful new wave artist today is a master of discipline, not so much a technological minimalist (there’s nothing minimal about those rhythms!) but rather one who recognizes the perfect balance of tech in a song and isn’t tempted to slide into the excesses of bass and beat that characterize more contemporary dancefloor singles. Modern bass attacks the listener head-on, overwhelming the body with the sheer visceral, vibratory violence of machine-generated beats. 1980s new wave is just as danceable, but it targets the mind, not the body. It requires a subtlety that triggers the imagination, a euphoric optimism that envelopes the listener in a look-at-me insouciance.
Love Lines carries off this feat superbly. The album opens with “Wildlife”, setting the stage with a basic musical backdrop that frames Chelsey Crowley’s voice in central focus. The vocals are piercing, upbeat, and plaintive in that devil-may-care, teasing 1980s fashion. Simple synth lines carry the song.
“Heartbeat” is more of a synthpop ballad, starting slower than other tracks, and Crowley’s buoyant singing carries the melody. Slower, with a sweet intimacy to the vocals, it carries that 1980s poise. There’s a strutting confidence to the admittedly simple beats that open each track: what’s more 1980s than that? The tech may be primitive by today’s standards, but the attitude is everything, making the sound compelling. You can hear the auditory spotlight fall on that exemplar of 1980s words: “Heartbeat”.
“Heat” jiggles with catchy, irrepressible 1980s aplomb. How do Crowley and her musical bandmates (Andrea Mantione and Giacomo Zatti) capture the attitude so well, transporting us back past the previous 40 years of social artifice to the pure brashness of the era that started it all? “Get Closer” begins with an arching synth line and tenuous, arpeggiated chords. Is that a flute whispering in the background? No, but it sounded like it. Enter vocals in all their echo-effected, dramatic glory.
The title track, “Love Lines”, brings all these elements together in magnificent harmony, a style echoed in “Perfect Storm”. Each track has its own signature synth line, differentiation wrought through the simplest variables. Another of the defining elements of 1980s music is its delicate pairing of these two extremes: songs based on the simplest ten-second-long moments of melodic minimalism but carried off with a brash grandiosity that renders its simplicity loud and glaring and impossible to ignore. Isn’t this key to 1980s fashion, too? A simple idea – blazer and shades – but the blazer is glitter gold, and the sunglasses are oily and reflective. Simple ideas are carried out with audacity, daring the world to acknowledge them as works of genius.
While Love Lines ends with the synth ballad “Heaven”, I prefer the closure offered by “In My Dreams”, a vigorously danceable bass line complemented by the upbeat, haunting idealism of Crowley’s vocals. The inquisitive, sanguine lyrics summarize 1980s romance in all its visceral naivete: “Starry night, shining bright / Is it a dream or another lie / Fires on, burning dawn / Just one more dance in the full moonlight.”
Let’s leave on that image: a full moon with our blazer-bedecked, shoulder-padded romantics in knee-high boots silhouetted against the rooftop on which they dance, absorbed in the moment, living every moment to the fullest, caring not what the morning brings. Who knew the music of mullets, wrap-around shades, bodysuits, and utility belts could be so compelling? But Love Lines is a success that truly transports the listener.