Titus Andronicus has a brand new album, a 90 minute rock opera called The Most Lamentable Tragedy. While I haven’t had time yet to wrap my head around the entire album – its five acts and twenty-nine songs serving as a metaphor for manic depression – there are moments that jump out, make the ears perk up and the hairs on my arms stand at attention. The first such moment for me came in the form of “Lonely Boy.”
I love seventies classic rock, glam rock, and punk – and in “Lonely Boy”, all three elements seem to meld together. The intro comes right out of the 70’s classic rock playbook (I can’t help but hear Foreigner’s “Feels Like the First Time”); but then the drums and guitars pick up, and the snarl of singer Patrick Stickles is front and center. The T.Rex bump-and-churn of the song, with Stickles’ irreverent punk delivery just seals it for me.
T.A. is kicking off a tour in a few weeks, including a stop here in Phoenix. In September. God bless ’em. I can attest from their tour following the release of The Monitor(excellent album) that T.A. is one hell of a fiery live act, so go see them.
I first heardTitus Andronicus on a jog around the neighborhood in March 2011, a few months after they released their 2nd full length, The Monitor. Halfway through the opener, “A More Perfect Union,” I was all systems go, hair standing on end. It was exhilarating (as was their live show a month later). The album was rich with imagery, rage, a continuity and flow from song to song, an abundance of fist-to-the-air-moments, and a full production sound.
So maybe I can be partly blamed for the high expectations I brought to the table today when I tapped “Play” on T.A.’s new release, Local Business. I strapped on the earbuds and the running shoes and embarked on that familiar jog around the neighborhood, ready for that feeling, that Red Bull-will-give-you-Wings rush that music can provide…
Granted, the opening trio of songs – “Ecce Homo,” “Still Life With Hot Deuce on Silver Platter,” and “Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape With Flood of Detritus” – are solid rockers with that familiar angst and anger, a specialty of frontman Patrick Stickles. They’re good, and they very well may grow on me, but where The Monitor had that epic, fulfilling feel to it, Local Business has a garage-y, rushed quality to it. And, a lot like the (disappointing) album cover, the record’s production sound seems a lot more Do It Yourself and lower quality than the two previous releases.
I know it’s not really fair of me to rush to the web on the first day of its release to spit out my less than favorable judgment. But dammit, I was expecting more! They captured lightning in a bottle on The Monitor, and I know Stickles has it in him to go to that level again. On first listen, Local Business doesn’t come close.
2011 was another year of musical discovery for me. Clocking in highest on the discovery meter were San Francisco’s Girls; but right up there with Girls were two bands that can’t technically qualify for my best of 2011 album list: Delta Spirit and Titus Andronicus. Their latest albums – History from Below and The Monitor (respectively) – were both released in 2010, but I didn’t hear them until this year. Overall, when I think of 2011, these three groups reigned supreme in my corner of the world.
But on to the albums. Looking back at my iTunes and Last.fm listening history, it was clear to me that I wouldn’t be able to muster up a Top Ten list. Sure, I could B.S. and include something like the Beasties’ Hot Sauce Committee Part Two – which I enjoyed on some level, but never listened to straight through more than twice. Thinking about albums, ’tis all about honesty, and what’s truly important to me as a full body of work. So in that spirit, here are my Top 8 albums of 2011…
I had heard – and loved – “Laura,” a single off Girls first album a couple years back. But it wasn’t until this year that I fell completely head over heels for the San Francisco band led by Christopher Owens. The quirky “Honey Bunny” video drew me in – and when I tracked down the new album, Father, Son, Holy Ghost, it was over – I was hooked. It’s rich with emotion, it rocks, it’s delicate… I can’t wait to follow Christopher around from here on out and hear what he has to say. Both Girls full lengths and the EP are excellent – discovering them has been the music highlight of my year.
Here’s one that surprised me. Though I loved “The Poet Game” single many years back, no full album of Greg Brown’s had really come along that knocked my socks off. Freak Flag did just that. Full of beauty, wisdom and Greg’s wry sense of humor, it’s the folk masterpiece of 2011.
I love Delta Spirit. I love Deer Tick. I love Dawes. So it’s no surprise that Middle Brother was up among the tops this year, since the group is made up of the front men of all 3 groups. I had the pleasure of seeing Middle Brother live this summer at the Newport Folk Festival, which may very well have been their last performance… but something tells me Taylor Goldsmith, John McCauley and Matt Vasquez will be making more music together somewhere down the road.
Highlight: “Million Dollar Bill” – This is a Goldsmith-penned song that also shows up on Dawes’ new record, Nothing Is Wrong. On the MidBro version, the three guys each get a verse, and the result is profound, in my ever so humble opinion. I prefer it to the Nothing is Wrong version.
It’s hard not to be endeared to this L.A. band that channels the SoCal / Lauren Canyon 70’s vibe. Taylor Goldsmith is a brilliant lyricist, and they’re just getting started. That’s scary (in a very good way). And their live show? Forget about it. Passionate and fiery stuff…
Highlight: “Fire Away” – This tune features Jackson Browne on background vocals, Taylor’s brother Griffin taking lead vocals on the bridge, and the Heartbreakers’ Benmont Tench on the organ. Great sing along chorus – a tune that really takes off into the stratosphere by song’s end – especially live.
Jim James (er – Yim Yames) and the boys of MMJ always put me in a good place. Another solid studio album featuring tunes that ignite in a live setting. I must have watched MMJ on at least 3-4 festival webcasts this summer. Another mind-blowing live band that can also deliver in the studio. Confession though: I just don’t like “Holdin On To Black Metal.”
Highlight: “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)” – I’m a sucker for some mellow MMJ. A great moment when the drums come in at “I-I-I-I’m going where there ain’t no fear…”
Snarly wild man John McCauley is back with another Deer Tick record. This time he shares the spotlight with drummer Dennis Ryan and guitarist Ian O’Neill, who write and sing on a few tunes. Divine Providence has a little bit of everything – honky-tonk rock, punk, pop. Oh, do I need to mention they’re also a killer live band? I saw them three times this year – twice in their home state of Rhode Island as they took over the Newport Blues Cafe during Folk Festival time.
Highlight: “The Bump” – The Deer Tick theme song. “We’re full grown men! But we act like kids!” The drunken devil strikes again.
I was frankly surprised by Lenny’s latest. Rock, funk, soul, pop – yep, pretty much the Lenny Kravitz blueprint throughout his career. But the hooks and melodies caught on quick with me, and had me coming back for more helpings. The last time I enjoyed a Lenny album this much, I was 21 (1991’s Mama Said)!
Don’t knock it ’til you’ve heard it.
Highlight: “Liquid Jesus” – A sexy 70’s soul vibe as Lenny channels his inner Curtis Mayfield.
I was looking forward to a full length album from the UK’s Frank Turner since stumbling across his set at the ACL Festival a couple years back. It was worth the wait. Frank’s working class, populist folk/punk is alive and well in England Keep My Bones.
Highlight: “If Ever I Stray” – Certain songs give me goosebumps and make my eyes well up with their sheer power. This is one of those songs.
It was a modest but passionate crowd that showed up at the Rhythm Room Monday night for New Jersey’s Titus Andronicus. The passion manifested itself early, as the group launched into “No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future”. When the drums kicked in, the crowd near the front of the stage erupted in a mosh frenzy, knocking around and into us, and making it clear this was gonna be a high energy show.
Frontman Patrick Stickles commented often on the positive punk vibe, and he and his band did not let up for the next – I don’t know – 90 minutes? This was one of those shows where i was completely swallowed up in the spirit and energy, and didn’t check the clock – not even once. The music was explosive, angry, beautiful, and intense from start to finish. I was blown away.
The songs came primarily from their two studio releases – songs like “Four Score and Seven”, “Fear and Loathing in Mahwah, NJ”, “To Old Friends and New”, “The Battle of Hampton Roads” (a favorite), and of course “A More Perfect Union”. But they threw in a couple of punk covers: most notably “Racism Sucks”, a 7 Seconds song that was clearly directed at my state’s government – and rightly so. The second cover was UK punk band Sham 69’s “If the Kids Are United”, which they played for the encore .
Mucho props to guitarist/violinist Amy Klein, who is one of the rockin-est (for lack of a better term) female guitarists I’ve ever seen live. She adds a great dynamic to the band, and rocks out fiercely with her male bandmates. She made it a point to tell the crowd it was her favorite show of the tour so far. She had one hell of a cheering section in front of her… a lot of fun to see the give and take.
Titus Andronicus is live force right now. Yeah, they only have two studio albums to their name, and their band lineup is even more recent, together for just over a year. But as new as they are, they have something very cohesive and powerful. And that Patrick Stickles – the bearded, spirited front man with his primal growl… He’s laying it all out there – he’s hungry for it, and you can tell.
In the summer of 2000, I saw Philly band Marah play a small, sweat soaked club in Tempe. They were also touring behind their second album, and I came away completely transformed – just jaw-droppingly floored by their energy and their ability to take control of a room.
I had the same feeling last night when I walked out of the Rhythm Room. I made a beeline to the back door to shake Patrick’s hand and thank him for the show. Nights like this are few and far between…
Once in a while, a song comes along, lifts me up by the collar and slams me up against the wall. I had one of those moments with “A More Perfect Union”, the opener on the The Monitor, the latest record by New Jersey’s Titus Andronicus. The album/song start with a spoken word excerpt from an 1838 speech given by Abraham Lincoln – and when the guitars & drums crash in powerfully after the words “If destruction be our lot, we ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we will live forever, or die by suicide”, it’s off to the races.
The band clearly comes from the same school of raw, raucous power as the Clash, Bruce Springsteen, the Pogues, and the like. And singer Patrick Stickles has an irreverent, raging vocal delivery that reminds me of Conor Oberst – and I like Conor a lot when he’s pissed off.
The official video of “A More Perfect Union” skips the opening Lincoln intro, which is a shame, because it’s an integral piece of kicking the song into overdrive – from zero to sixty in a second. But you’ll get the vibe.
The Monitor comes highly recommended. Buy it for $5 on Amazon. I did. If you’re with me here in Arizona, I’ll see you April 18th for their show at the Rhythm Room.