Thursday, April 1, 2010

Titus Andronicus: My New Favorite Band

Rarely do I hear an album that makes swearing necessary. If something is good, I say it's good. If it's terrible, I'll simply say it's terrible. Titus Andronicus fits into a different category. When it comes time to sum up their newest album, The Monitor, cursing becomes necessary, natural. So I'll start by saying, goddamn that's a good album. I know you've never heard of Titus Andronicus (aside from the Shakespeare tragedy they're named after) let alone listened to their music, but you really, really need to. Why? Because they are fucking unbelievable that's why.

In a musical landscape dotted with Death Cab for Cutie's, Free Lance Whales and half-hearted, boring collaborations like the Broken Bells (the Shin's James Mercer with Danger Mouse), Titus Andronicus is the long-awaited kick in the ass the indie scene desperately needs. The Monitor is an album that combines the best of Bruce Springsteen, Bright Eyes, Neutral Milk Hotel and Abraham Lincoln with a never-say-die punk rock spirit. I'm not kidding about the Lincoln part either. The Monitor is a (very) loosely based concept album (kind of) about the Civil War and set in a New Jersey wasteland full of drunk fuckups and a plummeting economy. The album begins with a speech given by Lincoln during the Civil War about how America will never allow itself to be soiled by another country, if we are to be destroyed it is going to be by our own hands, and throughout The Monitor Titus Andronicus relate that theme to our very souls. With all the bullshit coming at us from every angle these days all we have is our humanity and while that might not be much they will be "rolling in it like a pig in feces."

At every turn throughout the album we are told that "The enemy is everywhere" and nearly 30 years after punk first broke through, "It's still us against them." Lead singer Patrick Stickles tells us that he has been urinated on, kicked around and crushed in just about every way but he isn't about to wave the white flag in his pocket. On "Theme from Cheers" he fantasizes about saying fuck it all and turning into an old man who closes down the bar every night and talks about the good old days. While Stickles, at his most Springsteen, won't actually go down like this himself, he sure as hell can sympathize with those who do. And that is really the point in The Monitor. There's no idealism without the self-awareness that it's all romanticized anyway and that we're all doing the best we can with what lot we're given. Toward the end of the album on "To Old Friends and New" we're lulled into a "Hey Jude-esque" non-judgemental sing-along telling us, "It's alright, the way that you live is alright," before we're blasted all over again with another reminder that "The enemy is everywhere," this time with saxophones!

The music throughout the album takes it's inspiration from all over the place. There are some Bright Eyes honky-tonk laments here and there and certainly a few songs that owe more than a little to Conor Oberst's terrific punk rock one-off The Desaparecidos. As previously mentioned there is a nod to Springsteen, their home state hero, at his most blue collar and beer soaked. And it's hard to hear a messy modern indie-concept record that ties in historical figures while referencing our modern condition without thinking of Neutral Milk Hotel (whom they list as an influence on their Myspace site). None of that is to say that Titus Andronicus is derivative in any way. Those are all reference points to be sure but they've driven their own beat up truck off the Garden State Parkway.

The last thing that I haven't said about this album is how incredibly fun it all is. All the bitter rebukes, sorrowful Lincoln laments and alcohol-fueled Nihilism ends up equaling one hell of a good time. The guitars shred with an almost patriotic swagger, the drums pound, Stickles howls, screams, goes falsetto and rages like a schizophrenic. The Monitor may decry our modern times but records like this make me happy to be alive.


  1. You are one funny dude! and convincing

  2. Quite possibly my ultimate fantasy band. I only wish i had beat them to it for the component parts. hot damn goddamn indeed!