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During my early 20s, when I was a barefoot rock ’n’ roll enthusiast wandering about 5,214 miles away from D.C., beautiful and oftentimes righteously violent women would talk to me about “this band from the U.S., The Make-Up.” It led me on a fruitless chase: one in search of records by a group that was vouching to “Free Arthur Lee” while the rest of the country was gearing up for another wave of indie rock and masculine self-indulgence.
It comes as no surprise to me that after receiving that piece of weird propaganda and moving to D.C., I casually ran into Ian Svenonius—The Make-Up’s polarizing frontman, who now records solo music as Escape-ism—years later, at a flea market installed in a dive bar, where we talked about music while digging around piles of DVDs, pins, and hats.
“Hi, I’m the lost record, I’m not lost as much as unloved” opens the first line of Escape-ism’s new album, presenting us with a message and a theme—or maybe an aesthetic rather than a theme. The album feels like a neglected object intended for the listener to find, crate-digging into the past, somewhere between a delayed projection of the rise of rock ’n’ roll and a monster movie.
After the introduction comes “It’s Nothing Personal,” a minimal track with a disdainful vibe, as if the now-defaced crooner behind it was entering a scene in a Richard Kern film. The Lost Album then jumps into what sounds like the hit of an imaginary summer with “Bodysnatcher.” This song, three minutes and 47 seconds long—complete with an accompanying video of Svenonius dancing close to a mystifying woman dressed in a black nylon one-shoulder one-piece—draws a slight parallel with Olympia, Washington’s Selector Dub Narcotic. But where SDN’s Calvin Johnson gets into an odd party mood that is often absurd and contagious, Svenonius hisses lyrics over beats that make you think of Alan Vega singing atop a Soviet video montage.
There’s a certain economy of sound in the rudimentary use of an electric guitar that scratches the surface of all of The Lost Album’s tracks, and it’s paired with keyboard and bass. The style borders both the self-taught and the prolific, producing a hypnotic rhythm that appears eager to become a new eccentric oracle.
Perhaps the most noteworthy track for D.C. listeners is “Exorcist Stairs,” a song that narrates a date gone awry on Prospect Street NW, complete with a possession at the devil’s gate and what might be the most awkward riff of 2018. Before listeners can get out of Georgetown, Svenonius stumbles into another vision of a bygone era in “Rome Wasn’t Burnt in a Day,” a track heavy on the echoes of an angry mob with an appetite for gossip and destruction.
Like a character in a book, Svenonius’ narrator wanders—unaware—to ask himself one last question on the album’s closer, “What Sign (Was Frankenstein)?” It affirms the intentions of his “lost record” as an object of divination, giving listeners insight into the future by turning the act of listening into an occult ritual.
As for the naysayers—and some inflamed comments I found online—if there’s nothing wrong with being a witch or a seer, what’s wrong with putting out a record based on repetition?