Titus Andronicus the studious recording project and Titus Andronicus the raucous touring machine are no longer two distinct beings; there is only Titus Andronicus, rock and roll band. So read Titus Andronicus frontman Patrick Stickles Tumblr post announcing his bands third album, Local Business. Indeed, the Titus that made 2010s 65-minute, American Civil War-inspired The Monitor one of the best indie-rock/punk albums in recent memory is not quite the same band that earned a Live Act of the Year nod two years ago.
For one thing, it was probably unrealistic to expect that the bagpipes, saxophone, trumpet, fiddle, and other instruments that made The Monitor such a blown-out album would be lugged from show to show in the bands Vandronicus. For another, there was no way The Hold Steadys Craig Finn, Vivian Girls Cassie Ramone, and poet Okey Canfield Chenoweth could always be in tow to recreate their recitations of Walt Whitman, Jefferson Davis, and Honest Abe, respectively. Obviously, if Titus really wanted to be able to do justice to their recorded material at future gigs, some pretty drastic adjustments were in order.
Adjustments were made for the 10-track, 50-minute Local Business. Instead of almost impossibly cathartic chants like The Monitors Ã¼ber-metaphorical Its still us against them!, we get less, uh, relatable ones like My eating disorder!, which refers to Stickles own struggle with selective eating. Instead of The Monitors trumpet, trombone, fiddle, soliloquies, and interstitial drones, the new album has little besides electric guitars, bass, and drums to go along with Stickles Conor Oberst-via-Ian MacKaye vocals. And instead of the core lineup that made The Monitor, Local Business returns just Stickles and drummer Eric Harm, meanwhile adding guitarists Adam Reich and Liam Betson as well as bassist Julian Veronesi. But if its troubling to think how much was lost with these shifts, it should be of some consolation to know that the band didnt compromise on many of the other things that have made it such a resounding success so far. Its due to this that Local Business isnt much of a step back.
Local Business isnt a concept album like The Monitor, but its still plenty ambitious on the lyrical tip. According to that Tumblr post, it make[s] clear the implications of the first two LPs, that the inherent meaninglessness of life in an absurd universe gives the individual power to create their own values and their own morality. So: existential nihilism. Of course, something like this could get pretentious fast, but Stickles has always been an astonishingly studied writer, evocative, honest, and witty, so it never does. And while theres more humor here than there has been in Titus past quips like Your dicks too short to fuck the world abound, and little things like Stickles Fellas! and Uh-huh on (I Am the) Electric Man are funny enough theres also a premium placed on weightier symbolism. For instance, Upon Viewing Oregons Landscape with the Flood of Detritus accounts both the horrors of a fatal car crash and the impatient drivers hating that which comes between them and their coffee that inevitably come with it. Its a deeply literary moment, and dont be surprised if the song stops you cold for a minute or two to evaluate “the emergency of modern life Stickles talked about in a 2010 Spin profile.
Where The Monitor (and, to an extent, 2008s underrated The Airing of Grievances) ran The Hold Steadys boozy romping through instrumentally flush, borderline-hardcore excursions, Local Business gathers Tim-era Replacements road-rock, Thin Lizzy power-riffing, and a few selections from the Pinkerton playbook to create a relatively modest musical palette.
That said, save for Upon Viewing and In a Big City (the best moment on this album and the most compact anthem Titus have made since their eponymous Grievances track), the songs here, from the eight-minute My Eating Disorder to the terse spaz-outs Food Fight! and Titus Andronicus vs. the Absurd Universe (3rd Round KO), dont make much room for verse-chorus-verse structure. But while in this way these songs can seem formless, they certainly never come off as directionless, as most of them eventually lead to a gratifying riff, solo, or shout-along hook. Sure, sometimes the songs are unevenly paced or dont get locked into a groove as sturdily as youd like closer Tried to Quit Smoking, for instance, doesnt have enough build or contrast to justify its 10-minute length but theres more than enough power in each to deter anyone from calling Titus out on losing their edge.
Even though Local Business is intended to be indicative of the bands show, its hard not to imagine there being some divide when the band actually hits the road. It’s arguable that anyone realized just how special The Monitor was until theyd seen its songs performed live theres just no way the earth-shaking stomp at the end of Four Score and Seven, for example, can reach full effect without being played in front of a flailing, elbow-to-elbow, preferably drunken crowd and Local Business could prove to have a similar story, even with its smaller scope. But for now, Titus have given us an album that no one should want to miss when it does come to town. Of course, that mightve been the point all along.
Essential Tracks: Still Life with Hot Deuce on Silver Platter, Upon Viewing Oregons Landscape with the Flood of Detritus, and In a Big City
Featured artwork by Mike Zell: