Here’s a song from last year that still hasn’t left my personal rotation in 2018: “Rome Wasn’t Burnt in a Day,” a stealthy post-punk ode to working together in tearing down impossible structures of power.

It appeared on the debut record by ESCAPE-ISM, “Introduction to Escape-ism,” the first-ever solo record from Ian Svenonius, released in November via Merge.

“Rome wasn’t burnt in a day / It took a lot of time for the bricks to be raised,” Svenonius sings, circling back on the song’s title throughout. “Everybody! Had a turn! To make! Rome! Burn!” It’s a hook that’s both minimal and explosive. You can’t help but imagine a basement somewhere filled with people dancing and pogo-ing along.

Since the ’90s, Svenonius has processed the world around him in legendary bands like Nation of Ulysses, the Make-Up, Weird War, XYZ, and Chain and the Gang.

With the latter group, he often uses a genre he’s deemed “crime rock” to combine cheeky humor with critiques of capitalism. He is also known for bringing an intellectual bent to punk rock. So it makes sense that he’s a prolific writer as well, author of “The Psychic Soviet,” “Supernatural Strategies for Making a Rock ’n’ Roll Group,” and “Censorship Now!!”

“Rome Wasn’t Burnt in a Day” centers around one cycling beat, creating a galvanizing sense of tension as Svenonius offers words of encouragement:

Next time you feel like giving in…
Next time, you feel, you can’t do it again…
Next time you think, man, it’s all too much…
Next time you feel, oh, I had enough…
Just remember what they said.

And then the refrain bursts open again.

“Introduction To Escape-ism” was described in a commercial for the record as a “found sound dream drama starring Ian Svenonius [that] no one’s been able to capture.”

Appropriately, this song’s beginning and ending slowly fade in and out, creating the effect that perhaps we are listening in on a snapshot of something that has been going on for a while.

Listen to “Rome Wasn’t Burnt in a Day” on ESCAPE-ISM’s Bandcamp or watch a live version of the song:

Liz Pelly

Liz Pelly