Rantings, reviews and lists from a person who structures half his life around obsessing over music.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Titus Andronicus - The Airing of Grievances (2008)

3.5 ★/7.0 - 7.9

Can passion be substituted for virtually every other attribute that characterizes good music? Some would point to Conor Oberst as proof that it can, but just as many probably remain unconvinced by his albums; especially his more recent ones, which have tended to overlook the fact that if you're gonna make emotion be the core-attraction of your music, you shouldn't drown it out with string sections and excess compositional prowess. If someone's gonna stake out the claim that emotion trumps content, Titus Andronicus is perhaps a better example, whose dedication to fervor and fire is only further strengthened by their muscular, musical simplicity.

It's too appropriate that a review of The Airing of Grievances open with a mention of Conor, because the lead vocalist of Titus Andronicus has a raspy and emotive voice that recalls the indie boy-wonder at his most searing, longing and corrosively punk-damaged. Unlike Bright Eyes, however, which too often contrasted Conor's quavering voice with spotless pop, the enraged and implosive screams and gang-shouts on The Airing of Grievances are perfectly appropriate for the music. The bulk of the album is made up of Flogging Molly-esque bar anthems that recall Punk in terms of volume and energy, but bring to mind The Hold Steady's dedication to painting pervasive pictures of parties and recklessness. In other words, these songs are freaking loud. The band begins with their amps at 11 and get progressively louder, nearly falling apart under the weight of every member plowing a single progression into the ground. They milk anthemic hooks for all they're worth, riding them through enough repetition and hot-blooded delivery of notebook poetry to thrust you into nostalgia, pining for long lost urges of youthful abandon. And this album is nothing, if not a soundtrack for growing up, particularly in the Western World. You can hear the Fourth of July fireworks sparking off in the opening rush of "Albert Camus". The two sections of "No Future" reek from traces of American rooted pride and honor in their traditional structures and melodies. Matched with the band's bleeding angst, fury and disquieting readings of Albert Camus, it feels like a mean-spirited satire on whatever this country is supposed to stand for - an extension of the idealism and anarchistic rage that develops when you're young and just learning the world's unfairness. Perhaps I'm reading too deeply into what many will justifiably ingest as bar-rock, but the band's wonderfully cryptic and poetic nature invites these kinds of interpretations. And as easy as it is to be resistant to music like this that wears it's heart and mind on it's sleeves, nothing really succeeds without some sort of emotional backing. I hope that The Airing of Grievances manages to convince the more hard-hearted people out there to accept sincerity at face value. It's okay to have feelings. It's okay to be philosophical. And it's perfectly possible to write a bare-bones, vulgar, kick-ass drinking album in the process.

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