Review – The Monitor by Titus Andronicus March 23, 2010

This review first appeared in Beatroute Magazine. Before I wrote it, I listened to the album front to back twice. I was intrigued, as you can probably tell. By the fifth listen I realized I was listening to nothing else. By the tenth time through, I was plotting it’s position in my Top 50 Albums Of All Time with great prejudice.

If given an opportunity, I would probably recant what I said about the way this album develops; it’s savvy didn’t dawn on me until way after the copy date. Titus Andronicus injects a ton of an arrested adolescence we have seen spoken of in recent albums by The xx and others, but then they decide to just grab their crotches and rock out. The QOTSA comparison holds water in the sense that this album is good and whereas the other album failed to inspire me, but the gloss and pop sensibility that characterized Songs For The Deaf is not present. The Monitor finds it’s voice in as many places as it possibly can, finding refuge in punk and rock, anthems and dirges, post-rock and alt-country. As a loose concept album about the American Civil War and as a something to bang your head to (against?) to it succeeds on levels of nothing else I have heard in quite some time. Not that I listen to concept albums about national struggles over slavery very often or anything…you get what I mean. It’s awesome.

The gravel in Patrick Stickles’ voice might not evoke the response often, but a friend of mine mentioned how it sounded like Bright Eyes. I was kind of aghast at this comparison (Desaparecidos maybe, but Bright Eyes?), but as I thought about it more, it really is fairly apt.

The major reason (in my mind) that people dislike Bright Eyes is because the lyricism of Conor Obrest makes people intensely uncomfortable. When you listen to a song by Journey or something, the emotion and topics that form the similar foundation of poetry for both exists, but the quality of the poetry and songwriting is disparate enough that Obrest simply expresses those emotions far clearer and more precisely. Emotion is only cool to an extent to that in a group, one would not be mocked for the enjoyment of such language of loss and pain. The word “Emo” was quickly drawn up to disparage an entire demographic that identified with some fairly dour subject matter in their iTunes library. While they didn’t help themselves by subverting that musical subgenre with some fairly shitty material and questionable purchases at Hot Topic, the message was clear: if you are sad or take part in perceived sad-sackery you are uncool and are open to acceptable mockery.

The Monitor is an album that nearly wallows in frustration, and that anger is (as Dr. Melfi would say) depression turned inwards. While it is easy to pin Obrest as “depressed” due to the style in which most of his discography is presented, they meet lyrically like Lego, Titus only deciding to punch a wall instead of weeping against it. Both are perfectly acceptable to some, but will always be rejected by a movement that is as stoney as it is erudite. This anti-sadness brigade is really just a railing against any public inclination towards emotions they themselves share, but are too reserved to share. Which, of course, is total bullshit. Do you think Jim Stark had no emotion? Do you think that wasn’t just a front and a lamented mask? Wasn’t that the whole point of Rebel Without a Cause and the whole brilliance of James Dean?

People are going to point to this album with the same derision they do anything by Bright Eyes, and I still cannot explain why. Maybe it will be punk rock enough not to threaten anyone’s masculinity.

Yet Fleet Foxes and The Antlers are cool. I don’t get it.

Here is the review, as printed. This is the best album of 2010 so far. Seek it out.


The Monitor

Titus Andronicus is a band that never shies away from bombast. From naming themselves after a fairly popular Roman military figure and Shakespeare character to opening their new album “The Monitor” with a truncated speech from former United States President Abraham Lincoln, the band gets as close your face as possible without treating it to a smart head-butt.

It’s strange, however, that this outing has more in common with “Songs for the Deaf” by Queens of the Stone Age in terms of the career arc of a band. “Songs for the Deaf” represented a streamlined QOTSA, bringing out the hooky, accessible aspects of the band’s sometimes monotonous sound. Though Titus Andronicus lacks the extended precedence for such a qualification, the metaphor is fitting; “The Monitor” is an incredibly listenable album, chock full of anthems and entertaining guitar work that the previous “Airing of Grievances” seemed patently opposed to.

Lyrically, Titus seems to want to distract from these dangerous flirtations with pop with full on punk-rock cynicism. The marriage between the two, however, seems to cleanse the sentiments of the scorn. Chants of “You’ll always be a loser” and “The enemy is everywhere” seem less like statements of defeat (or victory, or admonishment) and more a call to community, as if to say you’ll always be a loser, but we will too.

Though “The Monitor” seems to run out of new tricks in it’s last act with shoegaze dirges that would seem more at home on “Grievances”, it proves to be one of the finest albums of the young year. The director of this Titus Andronicus seems more focused, and with that brings out the best in some already promising ideas. Plus, you’ll want to keep it in mind when they tour, as “The Monitor” sounds like it will foment a jaw-dropping live effort.

Comments Off on Review – The Monitor by Titus Andronicus

Review – Heligoland by Massive Attack

The following first appeared in Beatroute Magazine. Massive Attack is awesome and I hope if they meet me they don’t hold my opinions against me. I’m awesome, I swear.

Heligoland

There are very few bands that have reached the almost sacred status with music aficionados like Massive Attack has. The problem with becoming sacred is that it’s a whole lot farther to the ground when you fall.

   Enter “Heligoland”, the fifth collection of original tracks from the group and with it one of the biggest targets for critical vitriol this side of “Dig Out Your Soul”. The problem is that both it and the supposedly final album from Oasis are only middling. It is the history of their respective bands that do them a disservice. Neither of those records is bad by any metric, but they simply lack whatever chemistry that launched previous efforts into the realm of breathless hyperbole.

   There is no “Angel” on “Heligoland”. Certainly not. There is also no “Teardrop” or “Inertia Creeps” or whatever song fans would rather just go back and listen to again instead of hearing new material. Those tracks are memorable and iconic for the sole reason that they are exceptional. Exceptional is, by definition, tough to attain.

   “Paradise Circus” and “Babel” are pretty good tracks. Most of the stuff approaches “Black Milk” levels of energy and prowess, but never quite attain either. Whereas the down-tempo style of Massive Attack was never boring or sleepy, “Heligoland” waxes into some fairly sedate territory. While it never reaches a state of Mum-type lullaby, it is certainly the least sinister and immediate of the band’s material. “Saturday Come Slow” featuring Damon Albarn and “Girl I Love You” are the standout tracks on the album, but again, will not go down with the majority of “Mezzanine” into the canon. While their general thesis’ are sound, their execution fails to arouse the same emotion and interest as anything on “Blue Lines”.

   That said, this is still Massive Attack we are talking about. If this is truly their most lacklustre album, then it is only so in comparison to the rest of their work. Like Yo La Tengo, Massive Attack at their worst are still better than most at their best, and “Heligoland” is still more than worth the time it takes away from playing “Unfinished Sympathy” on repeat.

Comments Off on Review – Heligoland by Massive Attack

Vancouver Choice Cuts 2009 December 8, 2009

Originally in Beatroute Magazine. Choice Cuts is a list of the top local albums of the year, and these are the ones I did reviews for.

Pink Mountaintops – Outside Love

pink

Always defying shoegaze, the ever-inventive Pink Mountaintops issued the intensely layered and evocative Outside Love to a storm of praise. Equal parts rousing and introspective, late album standout “The Gayest of Sunbeams” closes out one of the year’s best with a track that’s as infectious as it is skillfully written.

You Say Party! We Say Die! – XXXX

4FF39FE28F4A2162CA302C19ABB647


The Abbotsford five-piece has finally decided on a sound, ditching dance-punk textures for a little more shine and gloss. Becky Ninkovic’s vocals ring clear over their tested formula of charismatic guitars and punchy beats. Howard Redekopp lends his expertise to craft a sound that remains fresh and vital.

Yukon Blonde  – Everything in Everyway

l_fbbaea50948d22d503086ff38706d788

A massively promising EP from an already exciting band, veteran go-to opening act Yukon Blonde showcase their talents in this new offering. Thesis track “Nico Canmore” showcases a method and energy that excites and leaves you wanting more. The band formerly known as AlphaBaby is all grown up.

Comments Off on Vancouver Choice Cuts 2009

CD Review – The Flaming Lips’ “Embryonic” November 3, 2009

All twelve of the Flamings Lips’ albums are worth throwing into a CD player (or three) and Embryonic continues this long tradition. Wayne Coyne and Co. have made a career out of thrusting the word “safari” into your brain while you listen to their music and are rightly known for augmenting their neon aesthetic with a stage show to match. The aural backflips and occasional electronic dissonances that have characterized much of their late career come to a sharp point on their latest LP.

While never recapturing the flagrant abuse of standards they displayed during their Zaireeka days, the Fearless Freaks have nonetheless attempted to recapture that spirit, with Embryonic making their output since 1999 look almost accessible. With songs running the gamut from intensely listenable to merely damned interesting, Embryonic exhibits their unique flair for turning the improbable into the improbably great. Karen O. making animal noises over speakerphone mid-way through the album doesn’t even sound out of place.

Embryonic is the Flaming Lips high on maturity. It is the logical, measured progression of themes they have experimented with for years and is more than worth the time and effort it demands.

Comments Off on CD Review – The Flaming Lips’ “Embryonic”