Friday, May 23, 2008

"This Isn't Shoegaze - This Is Suicide": Titus Andronicus' The Airing of Grievances

Though Titus Andronicus' The Airing of Grievances came out last month, I only just discovered it last week, and I felt it merited mentioning. With their combination of a raspy, Conor Oberst-like howl, unwieldy shoegaze distortion and jubilant guitars, this New Jersey band, who are named after one of Shakespeare's most ignored plays, embody existential angst in a way that is diffcult to ignore or dismiss. The Airing of Grievances is the sound of growing up and realizing that the world owes you no favours and that leaving the womb was probably one of life's biggest mistakes. Titus Andronicus hit all the reference points for hopeless youth, including Camus, A Clockwork Orange, and Bruegel's Landscape With the Fall of Icarus, which features the drowned Icarus's legs sticking poignantly out of the water.

While singer, Patrick Stickles' vocals are often so distorted with breathless anguish, it's worth looking up their songs' lyrics. They reveal an openly personal story, including references to Stickles himself and the band's hometown of Glen Rock. Opening track, Fear and Loathing in Mahwah, NJ, includes the fabulous line "People will tell you that if you don't love your neighbor, then you don't love God, but no god of mine would put light in such unrighteous eyes" - vicious poetry - and the first minute of the song drags along like a dirge only to burst into a full heliotrope of rage, reaching for a sun that it can unwillingly follow but never touch. Songs like My Time Outside the Womb and Arms Against Atrophy explore variations on the theme of wishing you had never been born. The latter includes the line "Even though things lately may have been real horrorshow, I'm wishing I was back in utero," which, deliberately or not, namechecks both Burgess's phenomenal A Clockwork Orange and Nirvana's swansong album. Titus Andronicus, an eponymous song, includes a spirit and melodic sensibility that reminds me of British Sea Power's latest efforts but with a spitting and snarling Johnny Rotten over top, and its constant chant of "Your life is over" is like a re-working of the Pistols' "No future."

And of course the next two tracks on the album are entitled No Future and No Future Part Two: The Day After No Future. The former is one of those songs that perfectly describes the helplessness of depression. To slower, meandering guitars, Stickles rasps his way through words like "There's still one shoe that hasn't dropped yet. It's hanging on by an aglete. This world seems like a nice place to visit, but I don't want to live in it." This track, with its companion song, forms a fifteen-minute nihilist opus that stretches from a mournful ballad to banging bass drums and chiming guitars. Closing track, Albert Camus, sums up the alienation of the whole album with a reverby darkness that feels like being held under a rockpool while your brains starts exploding into stars from lack of oxygen. Too self-actualized to live in blissful ignorance, Titus Andronicus puts up a screaming front, exorcising bitter disappointment.

Titus Andronicus aren't gazing at their shoes behind bashful fringes. They're looking the world full in the face and going down fighting.

Titus Andronicus MySpace:

Fear and Loathing in Mahwah, NJ - Titus Andronicus

Albert Camus - Titus Andronicus