War seems to be good subject for albums this year. These New Puritans already made a unique album with ‘Hidden’, a vibrant collection of interlocking songs about war and interspersed with the sound of a sword going in or out of a sheath. It was also a big step up from an already great debut album. Much of the same can be said about Titus Andronicus’ second album ‘The Monitor’, a collection of songs about the American Civil War woven together with bits of spoken word quotes. Both albums are two of the best of the year so far but that’s where the comparison ends.
If there is one word to describe TA’s stance towards war it’s confusion: how war makes everything black and white, us versus them, the devil versus the Lord. War brings forth the same confusion as alcohol, the second theme of the album. The listener is being pushed into another time and place before returning to a basement of a Garden State with the help of alcohol, as in a weird musical version of Slaughterhouse 5. This time traveler also travels between songs, appearing in the guest-star heavy ‘To Old Friends and New’ where he lectures us on the morality of war and religion. He’s chased around by the enemy who is everywhere on the album, like he is everywhere in war.
TA’s music has much less musical depth than TNP. Their style is almost shoddy punkrock that on this album has drifted more into the field of singer/songwriters. Think of Conor Oberst, the early years, with a rougher edge. Especially ‘Richard II’ and ‘A Pot in which to Piss’ could have easily been on a Bright Eyes record. The Conor Oberst sound at times sounds too obvious, but at least they copied someone worth copying. A big departure from their usual music is the almost nine minute song ‘Four Score and Seven’, a shouted ballad complete with bagpipes that if played a faster would be a good Pogues or Dropkick Murphys song.
From a band who’s named after a Shakespeare play you can really only expect smart songs and the Monitor is exactly that. It’s like an episode of Family Guy: if you know a lot of movies you will constantly see references. On ‘The Monitor’ TA refers to authors like Camus, Whitman, names Civil War sites and literally quotes songwriters like Billy Bragg and Bruce Springsteen. The Boss is quoted in the opener ‘A More Perfect Union’ in which they make no big deal about being from New Jersey as well. He’s also name checked in the closer ‘Battle of Hampton Roads’ which clocks in at 14 minutes. If there is one bad thing to say about the album it is that is about 14 minutes too long. But you have to listen to the album in it’s entirety to grasp the whole concept.
Titus Andronicus have catapulted themselves to the upper echelons of American indie rock with “The Monitor”. 2010 is a great year for music so far in my humble opinion. In May they will play in Amsterdam, a double bill with another new great band Surfer Blood (reviewed before). Could be a legendary show…