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USS vs Them,
This review is from: THE MONITOR (Audio CD)
History alert! The USS Monitor was the US Navy's first ironclad warship and fought the similarly-clad CSS Virginia to a draw at the Battle of Hampton Roads during the American Civil War. Titus Andronicus is in turn Shakespeare's bloodiest tragedy themed on Roman revenge.
Last year, Titus Andronicus the band snuck out The Airing of Grievances, an impressively abrasive garage-country-punk cacophony that recalled Cursive battling Bright Eyes's Desaparecidos project for supremacy. Their sophomore album The Monitor builds on that patented racket substantially, casually courting the Civil War by means of a concept whilst framing it against modern New Jersey living.
Not content, The Monitor sprawls decadently across 65 minutes, opening with a reading of Abraham Lincoln and later one of the then president of the Confederate States of America Jefferson Davis. Fourteen (14!) of these minutes are taken to digest "The Battle Of Hampton Roads" itself, a huge accomplishment of a track that includes an incongruous yet marvellously welcome bagpipe solo. Earlier, "...And Ever" even thinks to throw in a similarly pleasing E-Street sax chorus. Elsewhere, the Boss himself gets a name-check and more than a nod on "A More Perfect Union" with this choice deformation: "Tramps like us, baby, we were born to die."
Furthermore, The Monitor houses innumerable guest appearances including contributions by the likes of Vivian Girls and Craig Finn of The Hold Steady. The downtempo duet that Jenn Wassner of alt-folk outfit Wye Oak provides on "To Old Friends And New" is particularly memorable set against militaristic drumming. Suffice it to say that dumb punk-rock this is not.
The Monitor could easily have been an indulgent mess, yet Patrick Stickles' vocal vitriol ties the project together just as it did on the even more ramshackle debut. His tumbling rhythm lends the endeavour real weight, his variety more so. It's ironic then that nihilistic staples such as "the enemy is everywhere" and "you will always be a loser" are repeated obsessively until they land like smashing your head against the wall. However, these statements aren't aimless nor uncreative. Each instance increases in dramatic tension. Each builds to well-worked releases suggesting further schooling in Conor Oberst.
The quiet bridge in "No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future" rides along on frenetic hi-hat, "Richard II" is full of bouncing energy, clashing guitar edges and near-danceable, Pogues-like shenanigans. The galloping drums in "A Pot In Which To ****" match the distant "whoa, oh, ohs" to perfection as a reverbed riff takes centre stage. Like elsewhere, they then lurch back into piano-led, E-Street bar-room punk.
Sufficiently ragged throughout, The Monitor's rough edges provide its successes. Where backing "whoa, oh, oh, oohs" could have upset the raucous mix, raw interjections of guitar provide the necessary balance. Stickles' drunken Irish holler compliments The Monitor magnificently where a lesser voice could have veered it towards more plodding material. Over 65 minutes, inevitably there are candidates for exclusion on the basis of common economy, but surprisingly few jump out. Each guitar solo is full of adrenalin-soaked necessity, each reprised chorus full of alcohol-fuelled debauchery.
Titus Andronicus are simultaneously angry and fun and it makes them compelling listening. The Monitor is loose, lengthy and dishevelled. Together, they make an invincible statement of fear and awe.