Review Summary: "There is not a doctor that can diagnose me/I am dying slowly from Patrick Stickle's Disease."
In 2002, Desaparecidos released Read Music/Speak Spanish, which is considered to by some to be the ultimate lashing out of suburban brutality in the post-hardcore genre. Lead vocalist Conor Oberst sounds angrier than he ever did in his future bands, lashing out at corporate greed and suburban detachment with moody, furious detachment. The result is a dizzying collection of anger, an emotion sometimes underutilized in contemporary post-hardcore. Titus Andronicus, however, have an anger that is fully realized , and they use it efficiently on The Airing of Grievances. Titus Andronicus, to begin with, are extremely literate. Numerous literary and pop-culture references can be found throughout the album, including a reading from the Shakespearean play from which the band derives their name. These references add something unique, something hard to place, to the distorted guitars and cracked vocals that characterize this band’s debut: intelligence.
“Throw my guitar down on the floor/No one cares what I've got to say anymore/I didn't come here to be damned with faint praise/I'll write my masterpiece some other day.” Such a damning proclamation begins the (autobiographical?) song “Titus Andronicus”, summing up the attitude towards creation that permeates the entire album. Singer Patrick Stickles is pissed off in an almost nihilist sense- he’s frustrated with the process of creation and the products that yield from it. The songs are fast, but Stickles is faster. He’s screaming when the music becomes upbeat, and he's screaming when all that remains is the ambiance vibrating from the resting guitars. In fact, doesn’t let off until his 45 minutes of album is up.
As compelling as their singer is, however, the most fascinating thing about Titus Andronicus is the variety of influences they utilize in order to air their grievances. They are at once indie and punk, unleashing at times with surprising agility, but at the same time knowing when to restrain the tempo and lasso the galloping guitars. Drummer Eric Harm’s ability to remain in the background is impressive, holding the music together when it could easily collapse under its own density. Shoegaze elements are also quite obvious. As mentioned before, the drums are almost an afterthought. The vocals dominate not because of the mixing or production, but because of the intensity in Stickles voice. He screams as if he is competing against the raging guitars, and is sometimes indistinguishable in the fury. This effect really adds to the overall mood of the album, leaving the impression that Stickles is actually reading a list of the things he hates as the guitars chatter and drone in the background.
The most impressive aspect of the shoe gaze influence is that it does not detract from the fact that these guys are essentially making punk rock. Usually, in albums such as these, one influence will outweigh another, and gradually cause a band to lean heavily towards one genre. Luckily, Titus Andronicus have no such problem. They maintain the tempest throughout, never allowing their indie or shoe gaze elements to cancel out their main message: they’re f*cking pissed off. The songs still drip with existential anguish and life's small frustrations, and Titus Andronicus have no trouble at all channeling them. In the end, music is one of the most honest forms of self-examination, and this album is self-examination to the most painstaking degree.