Monday, May 30, 2016

The Airing of Grievances - Titus Andronicus

The Airing of Grievances
Titus Andronicus
XL Recordings  XL LP 397

I heard this band on KXLU a few times but wasn't interested in them until I saw them open for Okkervil River at the Wiltern.  Their performance was tremendously exciting and energetic so I decided to check out one of their albums.  This was their debut album originally released on an indie label in 2008 before being reissued by XL in 2009.  The band gives the album a theatrical structure in the lyric sheet organizing the songs into two parts plus a prologue and an epilogue.  The lyrics are overtly autobiographical, drawn from lead singer Patrick Stickles' experiences as a youth and in college.  The prologue consists of "Fear and Loathing in Mahwah, NJ" which like all the songs on the record was written by Stickles.  It starts slow and distant, practically inaudible at normal volume, then it kicks into a fast tempo section with an Irish music flavor reminiscent of the Pogues.  The song attacks the world with extraordinary vitriol apparently inspired by Stickles' unhappiness attending college in the titular town.  At the conclusion of the song there is a reading from Shakespeare's play "Titus Andronicus."  It comes from the end of the play where the villain Aaron expresses his lack of remorse for his evil deeds and his regret that he didn't do more of them.  Part I begins with "My Time Outside the Womb" which describes Stickles birth and childhood in New Jersey.  The song is a rocker that mixes power pop with old fashioned rock and roll.  The gloomy "Joset of Nazareth's Blues" takes a poke at religion and outlines Stickles grim view of life.  Musically the song sounds like a crazed street musician covering Bruce Springsteen.  "Arms Against Atrophy" recounts a high school band trip to San Francisco where Stickles broke his arm as well as a dream in which his mother attempted to kill him with nail clippers.  It is a punky rocker with a throat-shredding vocal from Stickles.  "Upon Viewing Bruegel's 'Landscape with the Fall of Icarus'" has no obvious connection to that painting but instead features more of Stickles nihilistic philosophizing.  It is raucous power pop with punk attitude.  That concludes side one and part I.  Part II begins with "Titus Andronicus" in which Stickles describes the misery of being in an indie rock band.  The song ends with Stickles howling "your life is over" repeatedly.  It is a thunderous song with a lot of drive.  The band generates an impressive wall of sound.  The misery continues in "No Future Part I" in which he describes himself as "dying slowly from Patrick Stickles disease."  The song expresses a desire to runaway from unhappiness as well as thoughts of suicide.  The song starts slow, almost dirge-like which serves its depressing message well.  Beginning with the instrumental break it becomes noisier without increasing the pace too much, this part reminds me of Neil Young and Crazy Horse.  "No Future Part II: The Day After No Future" is a song about the apocalypse.  Unlike "Part I" it rocks out fiercely and just as loudly with lots of guitar noise becoming shoegaze-like at the end.  There is a reading at the conclusion of the song from the end of Albert Camus' novel "The Stranger."  It includes the famous line about Meursault laying his heart open "to the benign indifference of the universe."  The epilogue features the song "Albert Camus" which is not about the author but rather describes adolescent stupidity and misbehavior in a small New Jersey town.  The indifference and the apathy the people in the song feel towards life is presumably intended to be compared to the existential perspective expressed in Camus' work.  The song is another frenetic assault on the eardrums with a shoegazy finish.  This is one of the darkest pop records that I've ever heard.  At times it seems more like a suicide note than art.  I was an alienated adolescent and I haven't forgotten what it was like, but this is so extreme I have trouble relating to it at times.  Also I find such a steady stream of negative feelings wearying to listen to, there is no humor or expression of warmth to offer any respite.  The album is aptly titled, I don't think I've ever heard such a prodigious venting of spleen.  The record's saving grace is the music which is wonderfully dynamic and passionate.  It combines the raw energy of punk rock with the song craft of power pop and shoegaze with thrilling results.  Also Stickles is a very expressive singer which makes his ceaseless whining a lot more palatable.  Recommended to Nirvana fans who think Kurt Cobain was too cheerful.

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