Titus Andronicus Local Business(XL Recordings) Buy it from Insound
For most, being a lively twenty-something year-old is merely a continuation of one’s teenage years, but with much more alcohol. However, for me, it’s a twilight period where the sun sets on my youth slowly enough that I can both bitterly scowl at my ignorant, “YOLO” chanting peers and reflect on my own mortality and the overall non-direction of my stagnant life. For anyone else going through this same predicament, I can only suggest that you listen to Local Business.
On the band’s third outing, we find lead singer/principle songwriter Patrick Stickles delivering some of his most self-reflective and honest lyrics. While the album’s overall concept seems to be dedicated to the dying businesses of its namesake, the record’s lyrics reflect a much more personal and emotional message-- the desire to find some truth in this lonesome, bankrupt world. Local Business manages to sum itself up well within its first few stanzas. “Ok, I think, by now, we’ve established that everything is inherently worthless / And there is nothing in the universe with any kind of objective purpose,” Stickles screams with conviction. Some may view this as an incredibly depressing statement to start off an album, but Stickles delivers the line with such fervor that it almost seems liberating-- a cleansing moment for the listener.
This same angst-laden cynicism is further embellished in Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape with the Flood of Detritus. The lyrics describe both a fatal car crash and the reactions of desensitized drivers stuck in the ensuing traffic jam, who “grit their teeth hating that which comes between them and their coffee.” The track is bound to stop you dead in your tracks because of how undeniably true it is. Hell, we see that scenario play out on the news everyday; a horrible crash kills a car full of people and all we can talk about is the detours you can take to get around the mess. Overall, it’s an incredibly effective allegory about how we can lose sight of the fine details in our never ending quest for instant gratification.
This record also features some of the most confessional lyrics ever penned by Stickles. The most obvious of these is My Eating Disorder, where Stickles talks about his life-long battle with “selective eating.” While personally, I can’t precisely relate to these lyrics being a rather rotund individual myself, one can hear the sincerity in Stickles’ voice as he screams “spit it out” over and over again. Ultimately, the song serves as a necessary cathartic release for both the band and the listener.
The only weak track on this LP is (I Am The) Electric Man. On the surface, this seems like a fun, Rock N’ Roll sing-along with a set of goofy, yet catchy lyrics. However, with this particular piece, context is key and the backstory of its inception really helps flesh it out a bit more. The song was written and completed on a hospital bed shortly after Stickles had been electrocuted at the band’s practice space in Brooklyn. Aside from being a pretty cool anecdote, this also provides fresh context from which the song takes on a new meaning-- that of realizing you are a much smaller piece of a greater whole, a “circuit on the great motherboard that is, society” as Stickles said in an interview with Rolling Stone. Granted, the metaphor is a bit of a stretch, but it’s still worth noting.
Admittedly, I do miss a few aspects of the production that existed on The Airing Of Grievances and The Monitor, but the stripped down approach of this album definitely feels like a natural progression for the band. After all, I think it’s completely unreasonable to expect that the band could have upped the anti of their already over-the-top production and still come through as emotionally affecting. By removing much of their signature distant-sounding vocal filters, grand historical speeches, spacey drones, and tightly knit arrangements, Titus Andronicus has successfully eliminated any sonic barriers that once stood in between the band and their listeners.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t some moments where the record retains a similar textural complexity previously heard on The Monitor, in fact, some of the most compelling musical devices of that album are also employed here. Tracks like In A Small Body, In A Big City, and My Eating Disorder feature plenty of lush violin arrangements (courtesy of Owen Pallett), forceful three-part guitar harmonies, and fluctuating dynamic swells. However, it is entirely clear that the band was intent on capturing a sound more realistic and true to what their live shows entail.
It doesn’t take a genius to see that the world is constantly at odds with itself and that no matter how many times we search for resolution, there is no way we can ever truly find balance. The harsh truth is that things are not okay, and never will get much better. The wonderful thing about a band like Titus Andronicus is that they don’t try to promise you a solution, nor do they attempt to provide you with an escape from the brutal realities of life. Instead, the band offers you a way to celebrate the chaos-- to unite under our own innate flaws and share a moment of existential frustration together.25 October, 2012 - 10:21 — Andrew Ciraulo