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Escape-ism - Introduction to Escape-ism

  by Adrian Janes

published: 17 / 1 / 2018

Escape-ism - Introduction to Escape-ism
Label: Merge Records
Format: CD


Latest guise of Nation of Ulysses veteran Ian Svenonius proves to be a stripped-down vehicle of rock and roll dissent

‘Introduction to Escape-ism’ is the latest stage in the musical wanderings of Nation of Ulysses founder Ian Svenonius. (These have previously included Chain and the Gang, Weird War and the Make-Up.) It’s a sound like Suicide might have made if they and not Elvis had stepped into the Sun studio in 1956, armed with an ultra-abrasive guitar setting and a primitive drum machine. Unlike their work, this is, however, an album that’s impossible to take entirely seriously, owing to the strained yelping of Svenonius’ voice on tracks such as ‘Walking in the Dark’ and ‘Rome Wasn’t Burnt in a Day’, which resembles a poor imitation of Alan Vega’s horror or Prince’s upper reaches. Nevertheless there is a certain wit at work, in the lyrics of the latter for example (“Those Romans, they never learned/It’s time to take a match, man/It’s time to return”), delivered over an ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’-derived riff which growls like Cerberus. One of those rare songs which namechecks both Ostrogoths and Visigoths, while drawing a lesson of the need for political persistence in today’s America, it’s enough to displace Pink Floyd from Mary Beard’s affections. Coming from the author of a book called ‘The Psychic Soviet’, it’s not only the sound that seems rooted in a skewed vision of the 1950s but also the politics. The paean to defection of ‘Iron Curtain’ gets inside the enduring appeal of the dream of a land that doesn’t depend on harsh mutual competition to function. But at the same time, in the lines “Build a wall/Make it tall/Make it stout/Keep them out”, there’s maybe another, more current sense which trumps the historical one. If there is undoubtedly some justice in accusations of lyrical and musical nostalgia, it may be to make as pointedly as possible what Svenonius feels is a decline from past values and standards, which centres on the artistic realm but shadows everything else as well. So he takes on the implied blandness of ‘Crime Wave Rock’ with a brisk rhythm and Link Wray jabs of fuzz guitar, condemning it as “an affront to society”, while the strongest track, ‘Almost No One (Can Have My Love)’ is a kick-drum-driven statement of defiance in a world where “Almost anyone can be famous”. In the wider world, ‘They Took the Waves’ bemoans the loss of various simple pleasures to unspecified but clearly powerful interests, a loss of personal spaces which were also once public. Just as the music is deliberately, crudely minimal, some songs seem to be altogether a conscious satirical pose, none more so than ‘The Stars Get in the Way’, where Svenonius complains like the most hapless believer in astrology of the stars’ power over his life, comically whimpering “Oh no!/The stars are out tonight” in a voice that evokes Bruce from ‘Family Guy’. In the end, ‘Introduction to Escape-ism’ is a paradoxical, only partly satisfying album: unsophisticated though energetic music from a cultured man; someone with things to say, but possessing only a fairly weak voice. It deserves to be heard, but although another song tells us that it’s ‘Lonely at the Top’, this is an experience that’s unlikely ever to torment its singer.

Track Listing:-
1 Walking in the Dark
2 Lonely at the Top
3 Rome Wasn’t Burnt in a Day
4 Iron Curtain
5 Almost No One (Can Have My Love)
6 They Took the Waves
7 The Stars Get in the Way
8 I Don’t Remember You
9 Crime Wave Rock

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