Titus Andronicus’ debut album The Airing of Grievances displays the band’s ability to combine their adoration of lo-fi shoegaze and straightforward punk. It sounds like they had listened to equal amounts of My Bloody Valentine, Andrew WK and The Ramones in its creation. While it served as a great introduction to the band, it failed to capture the energy of Titus Andronicus’ live performance. The songwriting was solid, but the album’s production makes everything muddled. With Titus Andronicus’ newest album The Monitor, the band takes The Airing of Grievances formula and concocts one of the best albums in recent memory.
Opening track “A More Perfect Union” starts with a spoken word excerpt, giving way to a driving drum beat infectious enough to make even the most jaded scenester toe-tap. The 7-minute track slowly builds to a triumphant, smile-inducing crescendo where singer Patrick Stickles emanates the declarations of lost generations, “Rally around the flag, rally around the flag/Glory, glory, Hallelujah/His truth is marching on.” With this, The Monitor is up and running.
Only two songs are less than five minutes, (“Titus Andronicus Forever” and “…And Ever”) The Monitor appears to be a daunting album to complete. While most artists may stumble over 65 minutes, Titus Andronicus rises to the challenge and proves that they are capable avoiding all miss-steps. This is even more impressive considering that The Monitor is a concept album based on the Civil War and its assorted motifs.
Concept records are often poorly executed due to a songwriters attempt to cut off personal experiences from the lyrical content, something that Stickles carefully balances in “No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future.” Lyrics such as “Waking up/It’s rarely worth it/The same dark dread every morning/Senior year here in Mahwah” injects a personal touch, which can be found throughout the record.
Titus Andronicus moves away from its shoegaze influence on The Monitor. It sounds like the love child of Fucked Up and Bruce Springsteen, which amounts to a more frenetic Hold Steady. In short, it is a logical progression. These influences are never bastardized, if anything they serve as one of the greatest testaments to what an unbridled consumption of different genres can accomplish.
Along with the improved songwriting, The Monitor’s production is much more palatable. Whereas The Airing of Grievances at times ran together due to an overabundance of reverb heavy production, each track on The Monitor is easily discernable from one another even though “Titus Andronicus Forever” and “…And Ever” share the same rambunctious repetitions of “The enemy is everywhere!”
As The Monitor weaves itself together into its concept, the 14 -minute closing track, “The Battle of Hampton Roads,” serves as an abridged version of the album. The song recalls earlier musical interludes and creates a flashback by allowing the listener to revisit the glorious victories and crippling defeats chronicled within The Monitor.
Titus Andronicus doesn’t waste any time on The Monitor. Each note is expressive, each lyric is crushing and every bit of voiceover is compelling. If this sophomore album becomes the zenith of the band’s career they should be damn proud. The Monitor is damn near perfect.