Here we are, almost a decade deep into the new millennium and my favorite album of the year sounds about as muffled and distorted as Alexander Graham Bell’s first telephone conversation; well maybe AGB wasn’t screaming like this.
Titus Andronicus’ The Airing of Grievances stands out amongst other albums in these times of advanced technology, obsession over production value, and (curiously) the employment of AutoTune, vocoder, et al on every radio single. This New Jersey quintet of miscreants plays unabashedly loud, distorted rock music while frontman Patrick Stickles assaults your ears with his best top-of-your-lungs, guttural, screaming vocals. The sound is Lo-Fi to a T, but that is not to say that it does not sound good; hell, it’s great. The band has a punk rock sound whose closest cousin is Shoegaze, but this comparison can only be made based on definition alone.
The album opens with a dirty trick. The first minute or so features gentle guitar and quiet singing, and as soon as you adjust the volume so you can make out the words, a gaggle of angry males scream out “FUCK YOU!” But you aren’t mad; you don’t even turn it down. It’s not going to sound any better at a lower volume. Accept the bombast. Anyway, what's the difference? This apathy resonates throughout the album as Stickles screeches lines that could be ripped from "Sartre for Dummies".
On “Joset of Nazareth’s Blues”, Stickles shrieks out “From Galilee to Gethsemane to Golgotha, it’s a short walk” in a voice that sounds similar to a teenager getting in the last “AHHHHH, I FUCKING HATE YOU!” before slamming the bedroom door in his parents’ face.
[I was an unhappy teenager :( ]
Anchored by the duo of “No Future Pt. 1” and “No Future Pt. 2: The Days After No Future”, the latter third of the album outshines the first six tracks. This feat is due in large part to the beautiful symbiotic relationship that exists between the two “No Future” tracks. “Pt. 1” sets the table with an expansive, slow burning breakup song that rewards the listener with not only a distorted, dirty rock riff but the following lyrical gems: “There is not a doctor / That can diagnose me / I am dying slowly / from Patrick Stickles Disease” and “Life's been a long, sick game of 'Would You Rather' / so now I'm going to medical school... as a cadaver”. The TWO in the ONE-TWO-punch, “Pt. 2”, starts off knee-bouncing while quoting the guitar work from the previous track and proceeds to ride out the infectious riff. At which point the riff gives way to a haunting recitation of the very last words from The Stranger and then fades out. The two pieces, when listened together, sound like they deserve a spot in the Emergency Angst Survival Kit. Got ostracized at school? Tracks 7 and 8 on Airing of Grievances. Had a tough day at the office and a long commute awaits you? 7 and 8, Airing of Grievances.
My only grief with this album is that there are only nine tracks; but, as a wise woman once said, “Gift horse. Mouth.” So, I’ll take the nine outstanding tracks and 46 minutes and go through them again, all the while pondering: why do I even care at all? I’m just going to die eventually.