» Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]


 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]


 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Titus Andronicus
The Airing of Grievances

Rating: 9/10 ?

April 29, 2008
The other night while listening to my iPod as I walked to see Stars of the Lid at a local venue, I realized that when I reflected on the evening later it wasn't going to be as the night that I went to see Stars of the Lid. No, I realized already then that I would remember it as where I was when I first heard Titus Andronicus's debut full length, The Airing of Grievances, on my headphones, on the way to the show. A New Jersey band that has recently seen a fair amount of critical attention, Titus Andronicus grabbed me in a way that perhaps I wasn't expecting (due to the fact that other recent blog-favorites have been less than impressive to me, I can honestly say I wasn't expecting it).

To start the story properly, I found my way to the Titus Andronicus Myspace page last week and was so blown away that by the time the first song was finished playing I had already submitted an order for the album via the band's website. After finding my browser seemingly stuck on their page, repeating the massive choruses and scorching guitars, I had to download it. I certainly couldn't wait for the U.S. Postal Service to deliver it to my door. That could take days, after all.

So on my way to the concert I played the record through my earphones; I don't know if I was expecting the rest of the album to be flat or for the singles to be the highlights, but The Airing of Grievances, it turns out, is the best rock album of the first half of 2008. There have been other solid records over the past few months, but none that have elicited such a visceral response. Listening to The Airing of Grievances, that a Stars of the Lid show was suddenly not in the cards, and I spent the remainder of the evening walking around the streets of Chicago with Titus Andronicus as the caterwauling, passionate and gritty soundtrack.

I say best "rock" album as both a put-down and compliment: Titus Andronicus don't break any new ground here, but what they do they do so well. They're Arcade Fire recast as a New Jersey bar band, The Clash's mission statement implemented with the Replacement's fuck-all nihilism. Everything there is to love about rock music seems to have a home on The Airing of Grievances.

For comparisons, Paul Westerberg and the Replacements are good place to start: Patrick Stickles seems to do that Westerberg-ian thing where he's winking and being vulnerable at the same time. Screaming "Your life is over" in the band's eponymous anthem, "Titus Andronicus" has both the desperation and vulnerability of someone pouring themselves into the very fabric of their art, and the winking "fuck-this" attitude of someone completely jaded about the meaning of art to begin with. It's the same quality that makes Let it Be-era cuts like "Androgynous" at turns funny, inappropriate and incredibly moving (depending on what you hear).

"Titus Andronicus" exemplifies what makes this band so great to begin with: Stickles' raw punk-rock ('77 punk, not Hot Topic punk) scream is a wild and beautiful mess that is only made palatable by the band's knack for blitzkrieg energy and accomplished arrangements. Mid-way through the track the band rewards you for putting up with it (it's our pleasure, Patrick), although once you've made it that far you're more than likely hooked. When the band arrives at the song's mid-point "your life is over" chorus, they pour sugar into the proverbial wounds left by the track's first half, adding full backing vocals that take it straight into the sweet spot of a great power pop song. Then, in an immediate turn of genius, the music cuts back to just drumming, leaving Stickles to briefly lead a group sing-along before the band crashes back in and destroys the chorus, storming through a jaw-dropping scream-along complete with a key change and trade-mark big finish. All in just over three minutes. Yes, it's that good.

The Airing of Grievances effortlessly varies itself, without straining the development of its own "sound." For example, the band presents a bizarro-Springsteen on "Joset of Nazereth's Blues," which rings out like the musings of a punk E-Street Band, but in actuality is more like a less-hardcore Constantines trying handle a Tom Waits song. The results are thrilling: when Stickles out-Obersts Bright Eyes on the phrasing of "You don't believe me now," holding the note through a long, awkward moment of self-loathing before delivering the knock-out line, "but you will/you will," as the band erupts with a boozy harmonica and bashed chord changes around him. All throughout this track though, we don't hear the comparisons: we hear an ambitious band, already versed in their own language, functioning like the best band you've never heard and with their "best-kept-secret" status resting like a chip on their collective shoulder.

Elsewhere you hear the grandeur of a band like Broken Social Scene (the building, anthemic "Upon Viewing Brueghel's 'Landscape with the Fall of Icarus'"), albeit a leaner, hungrier version; maybe Broken Social Scene before they succumbed to the pratfalls of notoriety and "solo" records. This is the kind of grandeur that Titus Andronicus routinely clamors for, throwing themselves into every single note, every single chord change or counter-melodic keyboard part, every change of tempo or structure, every crash of cymbals.

But like perhaps the last great call to arms, At the Drive-In's Relationship of Command (yes, it's that kind of record, although written by a band more interested in destroying the suburbs than destroying fascist dictators), what makes The Airing of Grievances complete is that the band focuses just as much on the slower, detail oriented songs as they do on the spastic punk and the material that would fare well with the patrons of a tightly packed, sweaty rock club. "No Future 1" burns with an almost bluesy feeling and the album's lead track opens with a roughly recorded guitar and vocal (why do bands from New Jersey love that? The Wrens did that constantly on Meadowlands) before the band announces "Fuck you" in unison and storms into a pastiche of all the greatness that will be fully explored over the eight tracks that follow. The tactic works like the opening paragraph of a persuasive essay, in that it gives you a little bit of each argument and then hammers them home in the body of the record.

This is the kind of record you'll spend days rocking out to. You'll get lost walking around listening to it (I know I did), think about quitting your job to relive the days when a record like this was all that was allowed to matter. You'll want to start your own band and take over your own universe. Titus Andronicus is the kind of band that rock-kids will be drawn to and that will remind us all what it was we loved about rock music in the first place. While bands like Nickelback and Hinder rule the airwaves, banging out the safe, lucrative version of what some record company thinks "sounds like" rock music, Titus Andronicus are screaming their lungs out, pouring their hearts into their already breathtaking songs, and carrying themselves with such abandon that you pray they'll end up more like Broken Social Scene than At the Drive-in. Which is to say that you pray their enthusiasm doesn't eat them alive, so that they might continue making records that highlight just how transcendent rock and roll can be.

Reviewed by Cory Tendering
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See other reviews by Cory Tendering



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