Titus Andronicus | The Monitor (XL)

The Monitor is without question the work of a maturing band.

First album, The Airing of Grievances, established a certain literary bent to the sprawling songcraft of New Jersey fuzz-rockers Titus Andronicus. That brainy disposition almost—almost—overwhelms TA’s sophomore effort, The Monitor. A sort-of concept album, The Monitor is packaged as the story of a modern “hero’s epic”—Jersey native strikes out for Boston— filtered through the historical perspective of the American Civil War. Littered with period textual readings and allusions to long-ago battles, juxtaposed with present-day Jersey angst and swagger, the record is, lyrically, a convoluted tangle. On first listen, it’s a bit much.

Fortunately, the songs are ultimately good enough that it’s a worthwhile pursuit to dig through the “concept” to get to the “album.” “No Future Part 3” is the continuation of a song-series begun on Grievances. “A Pot in Which to Piss” and “Four Score and Seven” are lengthy screeds (the latter features the repeated refrain “It’s still us against them!” before the desperate “And they’re winning!”), each containing a universe of micro-songs. “Theme From Cheers” supplies some levity to the hero’s time in Boston. “The Battle of Hampton Roads” closes the album in epic fashion: at fourteen minutes, the song encapsulates the story of the hero’s return to Jersey and a history lesson on the most noted naval battle in the Civil War.

The Monitor is without question the work of a maturing band. The songs seem fuller and more accessible than those on Grievances, while remaining true to the band’s established aesthetic. Patrick Stickles’ clear, undistorted vocalization allows his busy—but also keen, it should be noted—lyrics to be disentangled and examined with close scrutiny. The instrumentation, be it full-bore romping piano and horns or interludes of little more than drone and distortion, is crisp and intricate. In the end, The Monitor doesn’t sink because of the Civil War trappings, but these songs would still be worthy without the distraction of a weighty contrivance. B | John Shepherd

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