on 23 January 2013
"Lots of people have been asking me about why our new record is called "Local Business." There are many reasons, but first among them is the most obvious - that Titus Andronicus likes to support local business. It is easy enough at home, where all of our favorite local businesses are well known and easily accessible, but out here on the road, it can be hard, and we are often forced to succumb to the corporate ogre to get necessities like, say, food."
- Patrick Stickles
Upon first listening to Titus Andronicus' latest I remembered all the time that had passed since hearing their last album The Monitor, and how much longer it had been since I heard the first demo releases of songs like Albert Camus which was later released on The Airing of Grievances. Between these releases there have been new events, and life has taken its toll in unexpected places. Health deteriorates and then snaps back into something more forthright, these self-destructive patterns and needs for escape creep back in like a devil inside, and when first hearing the new album having felt some parts of my body recovering and then others caving in I felt the old love breaking through like some retrovirus that has been welcomed in. The first time I heard Albert Camus I was eighteen and between conversations about the literary punks and renegades, and if reading meant nothing to me at all at that time at least there was Patrick Stickles sounding distant but furious between over-amplified instrumentation which lost them on so many critics in the past.
Something struck me with this new release. It's articulate, and not in ways that The Monitor was articulate with themes and over-arching narrative. What I mean is this is cathartic, to the point that it shows the emotional indifference that characterized the earliest renditions of Albert Camus. I listened to The Monitor with heart but it was songs like Escape From No Future pt. 3 that meant the most because they meant nothing at all. Civil war soldiers were trampled between blue, red and brown, that indistinct reservoir of blood, linen and soil. The way that it was all tied together was just dishonest, and Titus Andronicus probably knew it. This explains Local Business. Titus Andronicus want to promote local business and they want to play out the feelings that they have, whether about the economy, about internal suffering that is as real as it is painful; Stickles singing about damaging eating disorders and utter disappointment with the concept of overall purpose in Ecce Homo.
Reading the articles on Pitchfork these days we're dealt a disappointing hand. Music should be able to die its death whenever it needs to, and the past is lacerating us from behind when we objectify or characterize nuances. The world needs what it needs at that time; the ratings are over and exist in strange monuments or edifices with their yearly festivals that are like yearly sacrifices to the God of post- Q Magazine readers. It's over, and though it's true that Titus Andronicus have crept through all of this like bar crawlers looking for another place to voice grievances, they are one of the few bands who are occult, and who are looking for an escape from no future. No expectations here. I'm reminded of a Les Savy Fav show I went to and suddenly it's as if there's the great void between the Pitchfork- approved and the genuine performers. The ratings website, of course, handles some good artists but art placed into categories or positions of ranking is barely seen as art. This is why I like bands like Titus Andronicus or the recent collaborations between The Flaming Lips and Lightning Bolt; they are messy but honest, and between the catharsis there is some great music being played.
Ecce homo: behold the man. This is The Battle of Hampton Roads without the theme being played out. I recall the last article I wrote on Becomings and what was written about blazing life lines, lines of flight out of the way things are, and realize that Titus Andronicus are always becoming something, always moving out of one hole to the next, surviving on their talent, their empathy and the fact that they have always been genuine:
"We're breaking out of our bodies now,
time to see what's underneath them.
I heard about my authentic self,
what would I say would I ever meet him?
I guess "you're guilty of a terrible crime
and I know it was my birth."
Doing twenty-six to life now on planet earth."
It could be claimed that this sort of re-reading of human destiny, this callused understanding of this self, is deeply negative, but anger at ourselves is more healthy than anger at other people. Titus Andronicus know it; their re-telling of the American civil war as an event where many people go in and barely anyone comes out is retold in songs like Faded Coat of Blue on Jolie Holland's Escondida and The Monitor on Bishop Allen's The Broken String. This sort of weariness articulates history into art but as this brutal, seemingly endless pattern of self-destructive behavior. This blood and rust that escapes the unreality of ideologies and centers back on what people actually feel when all this bloodshed is happening. Titus Andronicus' mean to retell history as violence with possible redemption, but they are at odds with concepts such as "existential angst" which is a result of boredom and unseen violence, conditions of existence that are a result of a certain blindness. Ecce Homo is a song that, unlike The Battle of Hampton Roads, turns the listener's attention inwards and not on any sort of blame or angst. It's as though Stickles has understood that he has survived this world by inventing himself, but that he is left with a black hole he will never be rid of; it is a far more important concept than "existential angst".
It doesn't make sense making a full run down of an album. I have a book sitting on my desk and a half-finished cup of coffee to polish off, and writing about music can be endless and inevitably pointless. Titus Andronicus' latest includes In a Big City, and is also released as a single with clear-eyed Stickles walking through hometown New Jersey to New York. Walking through the streets where he would eventually write down what he saw, he heads towards the big city through streets and subways, through places overgrown and unpopulated and places where people push past him. It's staged, but it works. It was a massive filming process and he involved who he could to act as though they were getting in his path. It's a song about knowing what you are and knowing that whatever it is that creeps up on you, whether it's the fact that you have read Charles Bukowksi and think that you're somehow alone in the universe, it's not true, and that the responsibility that you feel for fixing the problems of a big city that spends more than it makes, that's not true either. The resistance and the responsibility for the problem are both the same, after all. It's a song about how unreasonable it is to rely on a big city to fix what's going on, and how feeling bad about it doesn't mean anything either. The point is, that we all feel the same way, but we're also experiencing things differently, and how that's important to consider.
Local Business is not a reader on Jean-Paul Sartre and it's not offering any sort of answer other than: make your life line and hold on to your ego. It's not that selfishness is a dazzling ray of hope in an otherwise becoming- desolate culture that needs musicians, local businesses, people taking responsibility for themselves; it's just realistic. The rest of the album is the sort of music that is played when there is no closing time, no need for finale or grand statement. The black hole has opened up wide and Titus Andronicus step in to populate bars and venues with a kind of music that plays to no particular genre, but rather a state of change and articulated catharsis which the world probably could use some more of.