So long as there has been madness, there has been art that tries to arrest its shape, art that tries to capture its lack of coherency and fashion something beautiful out of the stupidity. Caught in a world that feels as if it were careening off the edge of a Niagara Falls-sized torrent of self-surveillance, inflated drug & sex scandals, chemical-depleted romance, and noir-like petty hustles every day anew, it is often the delirium of playing the fool that makes us feel closest to God. On Escorts (Feel It Records), Advertisement leans into the romance of such foolish, magical thinking. The LP—their second, following 2020’s American Advertisement—is an impressionistic ode to the tragic comedy of contemporary living.
Escorts is a nighttime record. It burns with the neon-seared complexion of a drunken city wanderer, always moving with a funny sense that there is an unnamable fear lurking just off the horizon. City nights are fleeting, endlessly tumbling towards the disappointment of dawn. Advertisement metabolizes the sounds of good nights gone awry with startling clarity, shifting effortlessly from glossy, leather-doused glam rock to glitching, Kraut-inspired spirals, Scott Walker-tinged empty pub revelries to industrialized club loops. Undergirding the entire record is a singular devotion to pop worship: amidst its suffocating whirl of jagged sonic palettes, Escorts displays an unwavering loyalty to the ideal of simple, engaging songwriting. At heart, Advertisement makes no attempt to overwhelm the listener with indulgent references or feigned cerebralism. Rather, Escorts follows in the tradition of all the mad art which came before it, turning the delirium of living into something dumbed down and delightfully visceral.
On Escorts, Advertisement stakes a bold stylistic departure from previous work. Their debut LP, American Advertisement, was self-released to unexpected critical acclaim, garnering glowing, Rolling Stones-esque comparisons from such publications as Pitchfork, who praised the band’s “knack for surrealist vignettes that distort and pervert American fantasies,” Consequence, and NME, who listed the record as one of their favorite debuts of 2020. Running off the back of American Advertisement’s success, as well as a string of standalone singles with Hardly Art Records and Fire Talk Records, Advertisement devoted the bulk of the next two years to touring alongside the likes of The War on Drugs, Surfbort, Sheer Mag, Spiritual Cramp, and Narrow Head. These intervening years found the band becoming increasingly disaffected with the stylistic limitations of the live band oriented, English-invasion-meets-Americana rock ethos that defined their first LP.
In search of something more formally exciting, Advertisement scattered across the country, landing in between Seattle, Los Angeles, and New York City. They proceeded to compose the tracks for Escorts in a piecemeal fashion, passing a slurry of Frankensteined home-demos back and forth over email in what became a slow, methodical exchange of ideas. Advertisement reconvened in Los Angeles during the summer of 2022 to record Escorts, enlisting the help of engineer Mike Kriebel (Osees, Ty Segall, Mild High Club), who tracked and mixed the record in between Ty Segall’s Topanga Canyon home studio and his own private studio in Glassell Park. The end result is a record that bears increasing energetic resemblance to the chameleon-like, attitude-over-genre sensibility of both early forebears like Roxy Music and Amon Düül as well as more recent contemporaries like Total Control, The Men, and Milk Music.
In the words of guitarist Ryan Mangione, “We have a shared sort of dilettantish interest in all of these loose threads that exceed rock, from Vivienne Westwood and warehouse clubbing to like, Oscar Wilde and the way a glass of Guinness looks on a wooden bar top—we wanted to make something that honors the curiosity and confusion and impulsiveness of those shared desires. We wrote this record for each other, because every time we’ve tried to make something with a broader reaching or more universal appeal we’ve failed miserably.”
Thematically, Escorts dabbles in a type of lighthearted black comedy. Vignettes of different city-life scenes roll forward in cinematic fashion, ruminating on bizarrely fumbled pseudo-romances and the helpless repetition of beating one’s psyche against the world again and again. Guitarist/primary-singer Charlie Hoffman tells, “I’m always drawn to the subtle, nihilistic humor of movie references like commedia all’italiana—Dino Risi’s Il Sorpasso is big in particular—and John Cassavetes. I draw a lot upon these little slice of life stories, tales of petty criminals and fools and losers that feel fun and light, but then end in these sudden and totally unnecessary tragedies.”
Opening track “Victory” observes the frenetic pulsations of a disintegrating, androgynous love-or-friend affair from the stuffy vantage point of an apartment room, following a rosy-tinted narrator as they fling vaguely religious objects against the walls and make conspiratorial bets with a silent god. This theme of domestic psycho-enlightenment and crumbling relationships is expanded upon on “Nobody’s Cop”—albeit with a slightly darker tinge, as images of “good Germans” and policemen locked in fiery kisses invade an apartment that has become littered with cascading dishes and melancholic dreariness. Importantly, “Nobody’s Cop” refuses to offer any moral judgements, its repeated cascade of double and triple negatives [“I’m no fool/and I ain’t never gonna be nobody’s cop”] creating a confusing scene which is as self-implicating as it is critical—if there is a mortal affliction at play here, it is the hopelessness of love itself, not any particular player involved. “Where is My Baby?” launches the listener out of the apartment and into the midnight streets, following a foolishly optimistic character as he stumbles after an elusive love interest with a “smile like lemonade,” only for him to tumble to an untimely end in the shallows of the Hudson River. Elsewhere, naïve adolescents conjure portals into Hell (“Stupid Boys”) and bleary-eyed party-casualties rock themselves into the comfort of sleep before the comedown has a chance to kick in (“Eyes of the Night”). Lest the city become overbearing, the penultimate track “Point Reyes” offers a sliver of relief, waxing upon images of nostalgic car rides along the coast, conjuring the childlike smell of leather as if it were a type of vaguely perverted Proustian madeleine. The relief is fleeting though, and always in the rear-view mirror—at heart, Escorts entertains no hope of a lasting escape from the overwhelming flow of day-to-day life.
Sonically, Escorts finds Advertisement breaking significant new ground. Heavy dance rhythms dominate: “Dancing Scrooge” lays out a collage of stadium-sized harmonies and “Miss You”-era Stones saxophone wails over a house-inspired four-to-the-floor beat, while “Where is My Baby?” cleverly juxtaposes shrill funk guitars and naïve recorder melodies against throbbing, Suicide-adjacent hardware electronics. The band’s emotional landscape has darkened considerably, erecting walls of charmingly melancholic fog. “Eat Your Heart Out” peddles a Suede-esque vampiric drawl over contorted goth progressions, while “Point Reyes” evokes the feeling of a cherry-red Mustang driving off a sea-side cliff in slow motion, playing considered and sparse acoustic guitar lines against washed-out synths. “Eyes of the Night” carries this overriding sense of minimal, chemical-sapped bleakness to its logical conclusion, accelerating beautifully simple piano and saxophone lines towards an almost comically cathartic, bull-in-a-china-shop “Champagne Supernova” style ending. Advertisement smartly avoids drifting into melodrama, however. If “Eyes of the Night” brings Escorts’ A-side to an overtly severe coda, B-side opener “Only the Prophets” releases the tension, falling back into streamlined, Hollywood-brut riffs and phaser-kissed sneers with a sign of relief. The band’s wry sense of humor saves Escorts from fully committing to its darkest promises, constantly undercutting any sense of overt emotional sincerity with subtle, fourth-wall-breaking winks to the listener.
With Escorts, Advertisement provides a convincing argument for guitar-driven rock’s continued ability to reflect the maddening incoherency of the world around us. Moving with a cadence which is at once both tragic and lighthearted, melancholic and laughable, Advertisement confront the delirium of modern life and twist it into something subtly charming. At heart, Escorts is a reminder that the most beautiful aspects of life are also the most disappointing, the most sensible course of action often the most stupid. In Advertisement’s world, only the fool makes the rules—to that end, the only recourse is to lean in.