The Oxford Shakespeare: Titus Andronicus (Oxford World's Classics) is an early Shakespeare play set in in the latter days of The Roman Empire and is a revenge tragedy with over the top violence , mutilations and rape .In the current climate the BBC would turn puce if a new of the block writer offered it to them and politely decline. Anyway naming your band after the play is a statement of sorts I suppose. This band hailing from Glen Rock New Jersey , given their moniker , have a suitably visceral , aggressive, almost nihilistic approach to music. Trebly guitars that would flay the skin off a saltwater crocodile screech around, drums crack like skulls on kerbstones and singer Sarim Al-Rawl shreds his vocal chords in a manner most uncompromising and committed. There is , according to the sleeve notes, piano and cello in the mix somewhere but I'm beggared if I can hear it. All in all their approach is hugely admirable but is it any good.?Does it get the juices flowing? I'm pleased to offer a hearty yes to both those self posed questions. The sound may be a touch impenetrable at first but when you bear in mind this is a re-mastered re-release of the album after it first saw the light of day on some tiny U.S. independent label last year you realise how much more incoherent it could have been. In an age when guitar bands ,with the odd exception, are anodyne peddlers of vacuous indie-lite it's refreshing to hear a band who make a racket without resorting to convoluted fret posturing or trebly bluster. The songs are mostly good enough to escape such allusions .The high velocity title track ,"Arms Against Atrophy " and "My Time Outside The Womb" are especially fine but there is also more to this band than frenetic chords. Both "No Future Part 1" and "No Future" Part 11 The Day After No Future " reveal not only a sly sense of humour but a delectation for shoe gaze style atmospherics. Final track "Albert Camus" , named after the French philosopher and writer most noted for his ideas on the Absurd and who worked on the theory that everything has its opposite and that happiness is fleeting, is the most punk spittle flecked trash of the lot. Which is apt as these songs about alienation, dissatisfaction, and indifference have an indelible link to the original punk movement not just thematically but in spirit. The lyrics though have an articulacy that comes from more than blue collar dissatisfaction-"we only want what we are not allowed"- and even if the odd song is a bit clunky this debut is already up for most intuitive and thrilling guitar based album of the year.And as far as i am aware no hands were chopped off in it,s making.
Fancy garage-punk and alt.country all on one record? Titus Andronicus did, and this concise opus is the result. Titus Andronicus sound like Cursive as a result, and quite often recall (m)any of the fractured beauties from the Saddle Creek stable. There is a respectful duplicity in the often-raw garage-punk fuzz and the wistful harmonica and steel strings of alt.country.
`My Time Outside The Womb' is a toe-tapping affair stained with Bright Eyes and a dark heart. `Joset Of Nazareth's Blues' recalls Rilo Kiley but that bit more abrasive. The self-titled `Titus Andronicus' is a bouncy, shambly number which brings Black Lips to mind, their nihilist call to arms rings in the air long after the spinning stops, "Your life is over" the mantra. `No Future, Pt. 1' is a poignant lament to that future-scape just described.
Their control and clarity is commendable, only afterwards seeming to add the shambolic façade. This is a stripped album containing no excess, except perhaps in its members' presumable, personal vice. Neither tragedy, nor comedy, Titus Andronicus are very serious contenders indeed.
Imagine, if you can, Conor Oberst on a Springsteen bender and fronting the early Replacements, or Social Distortion covering the Pogues and you're still only halfway to picturing the storm that Titus Andronicus whip up. This is one of those albums that's deserving of a much wider audience than the one that it will probably get. Patrick Stickles is a great lyricist in the Bright Eyes mould - downtrodden, heartbroken and full of venom - but far from being depressing, these rabble-rousing anthems are utterly life-affirming and embody everything that good rock music should be about. The lyrics to 'Titus Andronicus', for example - "No more cigarettes/no more having sex/no more drinking till you fall on the floor" - and it's closing terrace chant of "Your life is over!" make death and misery seem like something to be heartily embraced instead of fought against. These guys are spiteful, sloppy, raucus, hideously depressed, raging at the world that made them that way, and absolutely steaming drunk to boot. The sound is rough and ready to say the least but the band are clearly having a whale of a time - so much so that they forgot to produce the album. Lyrically there's a great mix of the personal and the political, and musically there are hints of everything from Bright Eyes to The Boss and 60s doo-wop to Sham 69 . It sounds, quite frankly, like an absolute riot, and anyone whose been to one of their live shows will attest to their endless energy, charisma and raw power. Their 'screw it all' attitude is remeniscent of some of the first 'Mats records and that's something that folks of a certain disposition will find extremely appealing. Highly recommended for fans of the Replacements, Social D, Flogging Molly, Desaparecidos etc etc etc.
Can passion be substituted for virtually every other attribute that characterizes good music? Many would point to Conor Oberst as proof that it can, but personally, I remain unconvinced by his albums, which range from enjoyable to embarrassingly droll. Especially more recently, he's tended to overlook the fact that if you're gonna make emotion be the core-attraction of your music, you shouldn't drown it out with string sections and excess compositional prowess. If someone's gonna stake out the claim that emotion trumps content, I say they should instead turn to Titus Andronicus, whose dedication to fervor and fire is only further strengthened by their muscular, musical simplicity.
It's appropriate that I should open a review for The Airing of Grievances with a mention of Conor, because the lead vocalist of Titus Andronicus has a raspy and emotive voice that recalls the indie boy-wonder at his most searing, longing and corrosively punk-damaged. Unlike Bright Eyes, however, which too often contrasted Conor's quavering voice with spotless pop, the enraged and implosive screams and gang-shouts on The Airing of Grievances are perfectly appropriate for the music. The bulk of the album is made up of Flogging Molly-esque bar anthems that recall Punk in terms of volume and energy, but bring to mind The Hold Steady's dedication to painting pervasive pictures of parties and recklessness. In other words, these songs are freaking loud. The band begins with their amps at 11 and get progressively louder, nearly falling apart under the weight of every member plowing a single progression into the ground. They milk anthemic hooks for all they're worth, riding them through enough repetition and hot-blooded delivery of notebook poetry to thrust you into nostalgia, pining for long lost urges of youthful abandon.
You see, this album is nothing, if not a soundtrack for growing up, and particularly in the Western World. You can hear the Fourth of July fireworks sparking off in the opening rush of "Albert Camus". The two sections of "No Future" reek from traces of American rooted pride and honor in their traditional structures and melodies. Matched with the band's bleeding angst, fury and disquieting readings of Albert Camus, it feels like a mean-spirited satire on whatever this country is supposed to stand for - an extension of the idealism and anarchistic rage that develops when you're young and just learning the world's unfairness. Perhaps I'm reading too deeply into what many will justifiably ingest as bar-rock, but the band's wonderfully cryptic and poetic nature invites these kinds of interpretations.
And as easy as it is to be resistant to music like this that wears it's heart and mind on it's sleeves, nothing really succeeds without some sort of emotional backing. I hope that The Airing of Grievances manages to convince the more hard-hearted people out there to accept sincerity at face value. It's okay to have feelings. It's okay to be philosophical. And it's perfectly possible to write a bare-bones, vulgar, kick-ass drinking album in the process. (Aron Fischer)
For fans of: Beer. And also, Los Campesinos!, Flogging Molly, Bright Eyes, Bruce Springsteen, Sex Pistols, The Hold Steady, Arcade Fire