2017 Music Reviews

Album Review: INVSN ‘The Beautiful Stories’

Swedish band INVSN (pronounced “Invasion”) originally came together at the end of the last decade, with members hailing from various other bands (Masshysteri, Tiger Forest Cat, Lykke Li, Deportees and DS013). Old-school socialist punks, however, will recognize singer Dennis Lyxzén from his years as the uniquely charismatic front man for bands like Refused and The (International) Noise Conspiracy. Instead of serving as an ego exercise for Lyxzén, INVSN continues to distinguish itself as a true collaborative project with their third album The Beautiful Stories.

Musically, the band utilizes older points of sonic reference (New Order, The Cure, Tones on Tail, vintage Nick Cave) but re-contextualizes them to sound utterly modern and invigorating. Many bands who traffic in 1980s nostalgia inherited their fascination from their Gen X parents, but considering the average age of INVSN members (Lyxzén turned 45 on June 19), this feels more like a group of musicians carrying the torch for music that inspired them when they were teenagers. It’s the same flame that made post-punk such an important high water mark, further proving that the subgenre still has plenty of fuel left to burn.

Most of the vocal duties in opening track “Immer Zu” are handled by Christina Karlsson and Sara Almgren, the latter of whom played keyboards in The (International) Noise Conspiracy. A bona fide feminist anthem, the song promises to smash the patriarchy with not only its ironic title (“immer zu” means “always”), but also its lyrics: “You’re the privileged gaze / you’re war, you’re weight / you’re old institutions / you’re law, you’re faith / but nothing’s forever.” If Lisbeth Salander of The Millennium Trilogy were real, one imagines she’d be a member of INVSN.

The distinctive blending of vocals from Lyxzén, Karlsson and Almgren is, at times, reminiscent of John Doe and Exene Cervenka; it’s probably not an accident that the cover photo of The Beautiful Stories features a denim jacket with the incendiary logo from X’s Los Angeles album. The interplay between masculine and feminine is shared between all three singers to create an intoxicating gender fluidity that intensifies the emotional trajectory of the album’s impassioned lyrics.

“Bom Bom,” seemingly named for the heavy drum beat that repeats throughout the song, cleverly combines sexual and social politics: “In your arms I’m waiting for the coup / so tell me what you want me to do to you,” while “Love Is Like A Drug” takes the pretense of the similarly-titled Roxy Music tune and takes it further by having the protagonists’ beg for that particular high: “Love’s like a drug / shoot it straight into my veins.”

The Beautiful Stories proposes a call to action during troubled times. In the melancholy yet inspiring “The Distance,” INVSN asks “How can you look outside and be so blind?” while reminding us we’re not so different from one another after all: “You’re not the only one who’s filled with scars.”

The emotional and aural centerpiece of the album is “I Dreamt Music,” which boasts one of the most memorable choruses you’re likely to hear this year. The driving, emotional beat makes the lyrics even more profound and affecting: “So I’ll take refuge and shelter / In the rejection of what this world brings.”

In a recent press release, Lyxzén expressed concerns about the exploitation of music, saying that it has always had “a profound impact on everything that I am as a person,” adding, “We live in a world devoid of meaning where we serve the lowest common denominator at all times. Where politics as an idea has failed us and where art is being reduced to consumerism and clickbait.” There is nothing ephemeral about a song like “Deconstruct Hits,” though. It brings to mind The (International) Noise Conspiracy’s “Capitalism Stole My Virginity” or “Smash It Up” (which itself directly references the cheeky anarchy of The Damned’s 1979 song of the same name): “What are you working for who’s really in control.” Although we have been “taught obedience / to shut up / so that we can slave away until the day we drop,” the song offers a way to solve the problem: “we constructed everything / let’s deconstruct it all.”

While many of us struggle to find solace in the currently dire political climate, INVSN provides hope through its exuberant and often righteously angry synthesis of art and politics. “The Constant War” takes this struggle from the political to the personal and back again with lines like “But for every failure there’s always another try” and a repeated, fervent refrain of “I’m alive, on fire another day.” In a world filled with cynicism and darkness, the song is not only life-affirming but also necessary.

INVSN may not make the music that flawed people deserve, but it’s definitely the music that we all need right now.

The Beautiful Stories was released on June 9 from Dine Alone Records.

Less Lee Moore (@popshifter) is the Editor in Chief of Popshifter, which she founded in 2007. She also writes for Rue Morgue, Everything Is Scary, Biff Bam Pop and Modern Horrors.

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