Stripped Away

Titus Andronicus put album-length metaphors to bed in exchange for a direct approach

The true self is emerging for Titus Andronicus.

New Jersey indie punk act is now revealing what they are about on their 2012 release, Local Business

The guitar-heavy, anthemic rockers are now free from the conceits that guided their first two releases. The band conjured up 2008's The Airing of Grievances as a pummeling, lo-fi basement record, crowding the recording with tons of layered, multi-tracked takes.

They then wrapped their heady sophomore album, 2010's The Monitor, in an us-versus-them mindset filled with Civil War references. About two dozen musicians took part in the studio recording for the album.

This time, the band's songwriter Patrick Stickles wanted the record to be straightforward. It helps that over the last few years, Titus Andronicus' line-up as solidified. There's a growing sense that the band has found and accepted its core identity.

"I'd say we're pretty comfortable," Stickles says.

Stickles says he also wanted to be more direct lyrically, especially after hiding his meaning to a great extent on The Monitor.

"(It is) partially as a reaction to the last record, which was clouded with metaphors," he says. "Honesty is the best policy."

The directness coupled with the band's big, brash guitar rock meshes well with their band name, which is also the title of Shakespeare's maligned hyper-violent Roman revenge play.

The direct lyrical approach led Stickles to singing about his own issues, specifically mentioning his battle with Selective Eating Disorder. SED is a disorder that leads to the consumption of a highly selective list of foods and an unwillingness to try new foods.

Stickles says even though he's written about it in songs, as its an unavoidable part of his life, he still struggling with being comfortable talking about.

"It's the same comfort level as ever, which is low," Stickles says. "(But) it's fruitless to ignore."

On the road that can make finding sufficient meals a challenge.

"I don't always find stuff that I like," Stickles says

Stickles discusses these issues on record in an avalanche of lyrics, with no discernable structure. When a point comes up worth repeating, the band hammers it home, making slogans like "Spit it out" and "You will always be a loser" into anthemic rallying cries.

The band puts on a hurtling bar band blast of guitars, notching the band's sound somewhere between contemporaries Ted Leo and the Hold Steady.

The steadied live line-up carried over into the studio for Local Business, with each player putting their own mark on the songs Stickles brought to the table.

"Everyone's a master of their particular instrument," Stickles says. "I gave a little direction, but not much."

The band also made sure to tour and play the new songs on the road just prior to the final recording sessions, making sure the album and the live takes of the songs were in sync.

Stickles says he's especially fond of Titus Andronicus' three guitar line-up, which gives the players a chance to show off and add layers to the sound. With two guitarists, each would have to cover parts of the song at all times.

"Each one would have too much responsibility to the sound," Stickles says.

With a cohesive band in place, Titus Andronicus has also been able to dabble in different genres on top of its sound.

"There's a couple songs on there that are a little bit more out there," Stickles says.

The most interesting of the batch is "(I Am The) Electric Man" a lightly-funked piece of 70s-style rock, partially inspired after touring with classic rock-inspired power poppers Free Energy.

"That's not somethging that we really attempted before," Stickles says.

Stickles wrote the song in a hospital waiting room, after getting zapped by a microphone during band rehearsal.

"I sang it out loud. I was acting pretty silly," he says.

But that song and a few other songs and lyrics on Local Business add a new dimension of looser, irreverent fun to the band's battle cry anthems. Stickles says he was inspired by the inclusion of lighter material on albums like Bruce Sprinsteen's The River of the Replacements' Let It Be. On the latter, the punkish "Gary's Got a Boner" serves as a counterpoint to the deadly "Answering Machine".

Stickles says he was hoping to strike a similiar complementary contrast on Local Business.

"It was an attempt to broaden the emotional palette a little bit," Stickles says.

Titus Andronicus w/ Ceremony, Slut River and Gordon play Wednesday, November 21st at the Sokol Underground, 2234 South 13th St. Tickets are $13 in advance/$15 day-of-show. For more information, visit slowburnomaha.com

posted at 03:49 pm
on Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

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