June 16, 2010
Just beneath the surface of a thread of lyrical comparisons between the Civil War and Titus Andronicus vocalist/guitarist Patrick Stickles’ time spent outside of the confines of his love/hate relationship with his home state of New Jersey, Titus Andronicus takes all the raw energy of The Airing of Grievances and expands upon it. The result is one of the most honest, intense, and masterful albums of the year. Sonically, Titus Andronicus takes the currently popular, yet extremely boring, lo-fi garage sound, throws in some shoegaze elements, and packs as much emotion and intensity into it, leaving the listener’s jaw hanging slack and eyes glazed over. During their two full-length album career, Titus Andronicus has garnered comparisons to the Conor Oberst-fronted band Desaparacidos and fellow New Jersey resident Bruce Springsteen. Shrugging off such comparisons, Titus Andronicus simply do what they know how to do best: play with unmatched passion.
The album opens with “A More Perfect Union,” an introduction to the intricate, yet crunchy guitar work overlapped by Stickles’ signature shouting/singing combination that characterizes the rest of The Monitor. The most memorable moment of this track comes in about halfway through with the group-sung “oohs,” “nahs,” and “yeahs.” Next, the listener is pummeled by the track “Titus Andronicus Forever.” Never has a line repeated so many times rung so true as the one in this song, “The enemy is everywhere!” While walking around a party last weekend, trying not to drown in the alcohol-soaked breath of hundreds of my idiot classmates, I couldn’t help but come to the same exact conclusion.
Despite the fact that the next 5 songs all last over 5 minutes each, never is the listener’s attention lost. From the building climaxes of “No Future, Part Three: Escape from No Future” that highlight the ability of drummer Eric Harms, to the rollicking “Richard II,” this section of the album features enough diversity in song structure alone to stave off the all-too-common sophomore album slump. “Four Score and Seven,” although slow to build and finally break into chaos, is a definite album high point with an ending that features heavily distorted and reverbed tremolo guitar work buried deep beneath the riot-inducing line, “It’s still us against them.” By the end of the song, you find that your own throat is hoarse from screaming along. Not to be confined to any single genre, Titus Andronicus then take the listener down the drunken, country-twang drenched “Theme from Cheers.” Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you the greatest party anthem ever written, complete with lyrics to put the best of toasts to shame. When listening, it’s impossible for images of hazy nights with friends, filled with red-eyed singing and swaying to songs from generations past, to not be conjured up.
Unbelievably, there is only one dismissible song on the entire album. “To Old Friends and New” simply leaves something to be desired. The slow, piano-driven track just doesn’t fit with the flow of the rest of the songs on this half of the album. Instead it slows the pace to a tear-induced crawl. In a feeble attempt to add some sort of variety to a rather boring track, Vivian Girls’ vocalist Cassie Ramone lends her voice to the track. Although Ramone’s voice is beautiful, it does nothing to compliment Stickles’ scratchy, cigarette-scarred voice and ends up feeling a bit awkward.
After revisiting the themes from “Titus Andronicus Forever” on “…And Ever,” the album concludes with Titus Andronicus’ coup de grâce, “The Battle of Hampton Roads.” Lyrically, this track once again begins by using a Civil War analogy to describe Stickles’ war-like struggle with himself, his family, his friends, and every other human being on the planet. During the course of the monstrous, crashing 14 minute long track, Stickles delves into the themes of existentialism, nailing the laments of every middle-class twenty-something listener realizing the world isn’t all that it once appeared to be. Somehow, despite using lines such as, “I’ve a hand and a napkin when I’m looking for sex / and that’s no one to talk to when feeling depressed,” Stickles manages to walk the fine line of identifying with the listener through deeply personal lyrics: a mark of many of the greatest songwriters. The song concludes with beautiful trumpets and bagpipes over Stickles’ softly sung final lines.
The Monitor is a force to be reckoned with; rarely slowing to a dull roar and impregnated with more emotion than one could find in the entirety of the rest of today’s independent music scene. Titus Andronicus continues to breathe new life into indie and punk, reminding listeners what makes both genres great, leaving them with the ability to honestly say and believe, “Titus Andronicus forever.”