The first time I saw Titus Andronicus, I became an instant fan. It is hard to scope a band at first listen so I purchased their only album, “The Airing of Grievances,” which, somehow, captured the intensity of their live performance. The band, who hails from Glen Rock, N.J., instantly became my jogging music of choice: lengthy punk-rock rhythms and piercing instrumentals over lead-singer Patrick Stickles’ spewing of existential lyrics.
While I will not endorse the band’s second full length, “The Monitor,” as the ideal weight-loss program, its music is undeniably compelling and unapologetically forceful. While “The Airing of Grievances” was constantly pegged as an imitation of Conor Oberst (of Bright Eyes), “The Monitor” is much more vintage Jersey, playing like Bruce Springsteen with a punkier, more discordant sound.
Based loosely around the Civil War, opener “A More Perfect Union” begins with an Abraham Lincoln quotation until tremulous drums and raucous vocals propel the song into a drunken choir of chanting. Despite the apparent revelry and jolting electric guitars, melancholy and paranoia pervade the song, as Stickles yearns for a “new New Jersey” and suspiciously observes “the enemy rustling around in the trees.” The music maintains the intensity of a short punk song for over six minutes, exuding confidence and joy that belies the lyrics’ anxiety.
The album’s songs are mostly epics, averaging over six minutes per track, including the behemoth concluder, “The Battle of Hampton Roads,” which clocks in at over fourteen minutes. “The Battle…” is the band’s closest Oberst impression, which, despite the connotations of excessive emotionality, should be taken as a compliment. However, Bright Eyes could never pull off a bagpipe solo to conclude a song as successfully as Titus Andronicus; even the sax solo that ends “…And Ever” is the E Street at their best. Titus Andronicus keeps pushing the envelope sonically, taking the best from their influences and fully indulging their highly ambitious pursuits.
This album challenges its listeners; it is unrelenting and full of depth, taking serious listens to make sense of the album’s historical concept, spoken interludes, epic endeavors and sometimes exhausting length. It is remarkably ambitious in an age littered with cookie-cutter singles and condescending albums, fully deserving of one’s undivided attention, even if it takes months to unravel. This is the standard that all bands should aspire to; this is the kind of album that makes people love music.
Kevin Stevens can be reached at email@example.com.