Dressed to kill in matching, mod-ish business suits (and hairnets), wrapping themselves in teen-mutiny mythology complete with an intricate double-talk manifesto and album acknowledgments to fellow punk bands (Bikini Kill) and Latin American guerrillas (the Shining Path), the Nation of Ulysses was certainly the most colorful of the straight-edge hardcore insurrectionists on the Dischord roster. But underneath the elaborate shtick and the impressive pompadours, the Washington DC group made a high-speed racket devoted to the timeless revolutionary spirit in all the best rock’n’roll. “It’s illicit, cool and out of tune,” they sing on the 1991 single “The Sound of Young America,” a “My Generation” for the Fugazi generation.
With tongue only partly in cheek, the quintet refers to its sonic attack in the liner notes of 13-Point Program as “Soul Music.” There’s plenty of the roughhouse, twin-guitar variety in such high-velocity bursts of angry-young-man attitude as “A Kid Who Tells on Another Kid Is a Dead Kid,” “Cool Senior High School (Fight Song)” and “Hot Chocolate City.” Singer Ian Svenonius (who doubles on occasional bleating trumpet) has a deeper, throaty quality to his delivery than most DC-style barkers — not quite a Stax/Volt Rollins but a striking combination of ardor and menace that elevates his breathless rage above mere harangue. (The CD edition of 13-Point Program includes the “3-point remedial program” — that is, the three tracks from the “Sound of Young America” 7-inch.)
Plays Pretty for Baby opens with another bright, brusque call to arms, “N-Sub Ulysses”: “I’m not talking about a Beatles’ song, written 100 years before I was born…who’s got the real anti-parent culture sound?” Again produced by Fugazi’s Ian MacKaye, Plays Pretty for Baby is even meaner and leaner than 13-Point Program, shaking with a desperation echoed by the back-cover photo of five Nation of Ulysses dolls going up in flames. In “The Hickey Underworld,” Svenonius sounds like he’s tearing his throat inside out; Steven Kroner and Tim Green’s guitars in “50,000 Watts of Goodwill” and “Maniac Dragstrip” grind and wail like factory machinery. The Nation of Ulysses dissolved before changing the world, but left an incendiary epitaph.
Svenonius and some of his former bandmates subsequently regrouped, as Cupid Car Club for one single and then became the more enduring Make-Up. Needless to say, Destination: Love wasn’t, as the parenthetical subtitle suggests, recorded live.