Review Summary: Ulysses, Ulysses, littly flower, beloved by all the youth.The Nation of Ulysses
were not a band, but a political party. The “party” formed in 1988 as “a violent and rejectionist group operating out of the Washington, D.C. area who seek to ‘wreak their vision on the world’ through the medium of music.” Some might have called them a terrorist organization (they called themselves
a terrorist organization at times), but they may have been the best, last ditch attempt at keeping the ideas and intensity of 80’s hardcore alive in D.C..
The Nation of Ulysses
are frequently compared to Fugazi
for their musical styling. Those comparisons aren’t unwarranted. Both bands came out of the same city at the same time while sharing a pair of brothers (although Brendan Canty was never described as having “the smoothest skin in show business”), but while Fugazi
was toning down their attitude and volume The Nation of Ulysses
was a band that existed almost entirely on both of those. While Fugazi
was trying to push past the hardcore dancing and violence The Nation of Ulysses
were having bones broken at their shows.
The music itself is combination of 80’s hardcore and 70’s proto-punk. MC5
are an admitted huge influence, and at the beginning of Today I Met The Girl I’m Going To Marry
you get treated to “When I say I’m in love you best believe I’m in love, L-U-V” which is a nod in the direction of The New York Dolls
. The music itself isn’t particularly fast for what hardcore could be, but for the time’s post-hardcore it was relatively fast. Through this speed the band manages to always be playing together, but an air of sloppy garagey-ness keeps them from ever sounding truly cohesive. And what better instrument to add to a dirty, gritty sounding punk band than the trumpet? Ian Svenovious, the lead vocalist, plays trumpet at a few times spread throughout the album. The trumpet is never used in a fast, and high pitched ska style, but instead it is utilized as a tool to supply its parts with a slow trudge through muddy guitar and distorted bass lines. It is perhaps best used in Aspirin Kid
, a five minute sludgy epic about a kid with chronic head aches thinking the radio is too loud. You know, the lyrical content you would expect from a band described as “terrorists.”
Not to say that the lyrics are stupid. In fact it’s the only thing that keeps this band from being legitimately scary, or horrible. If they were to take themselves seriously and sing only about where to place the bombs at what time they would be crossing some sort of line in the sand that keeps them in the “fun” section of your local record store. If they were to go with the ever present, meat-headed “I’m a tuff guy” lyrics of the early 80’s they would be appallingly pathetic, but singing about hot chocolate, and candy while never forgetting to throw in “baby” every now and again keeps them unique. Or, perhaps you are the love song type. You’re My Miss Washington D.C.
is mainly about Svenovious having “so many things that I’m dying to show you.” Feel free to do the math on your own. Yet the vocals in songs like that really explain on their own how such a band as The Nation of Ulysses
could have a profound influence on the San Diego scene that was about to erupt with the earliest versions of “screamo,” or that little known band from Sweden named Refused
While the first full length of The Nation of Ulysses
shows the beginnings of a now classic Dischord band it lacks the musical chops found on “Plays Pretty For Baby.” Not to discredit this album. “13-Point Program to Destroy America” is an album that on its own has enough energy and “interesting” political commentary to captivate any fan of punk rock.