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Titus Andronicus
The Airing Of Grievances Stephen Burkett , February 23rd, 2009 09:25

Don't be fooled. Titus aren't a hyper-cerebral exercise in back-slapping, aren't-we-gloriously-educated-enough-to-notice-all-the-literary-references, they're a rock band with a decent book collection. Much like The Hold Steady a couple of years ago when they hit blog-love paydirt, it's worth restating that in this age of affordable, portable synths and samplers these plaudits are being showered over a band with a few guitars with the Yo La Tengo turned right up, a drummer who sounds like he hasn't graduated from the 'smack the shit out of some upturned pots and pans' school of battery, a bassist who's just happy to be upright for 45 minutes a day and a singer who'd be spending his time shouting at pigeons if he wasn't in a band.

And despite there being enough obvious touchstones for curious folk to seize upon (their very name, passages from Shakespeare and Camus read aloud on the record, Patrick Stickles' tortured whine - as if on returning to his childhood diary he discovered he did, in fact, murder his parents and it wasn't just a rather vivid hallucination) before even giving the actual music a second thought, The Airing Of Grievances proves itself a beautifully simplistic work masquerading as a pretentious piece of myth-making.

Cases in point: the hunched, almost-messy snatches of guitar solos on ‘My Time Outside The Womb' and ‘Fear And Loathing In Mahwah, NJ'; the construction and subsequent destruction of 'Arms Against Atrophy' around a riff that looms out of the feedbacked murk a minute and a half from the end and disappears as suddenly as it emerged; the joyous mess of closer ‘Albert Camus' that vomits itself out of existence in a hail of impenetrable screamed lyrics and thunderclap crashes of percussion. And about a dozen similar other moments liberally sprinkled throughout ...Grievances that feel like nothing other than five guys in a room saying, 'Wouldn't it be good if we did a song that's as joyously cluttered as a riot in an Irish bar circa 1935?' ('Titus Andronicus'), or, 'How's about slowing this one down so it sounds like Arcade Fire literally playing a funeral march?' (‘No Future Pt. 1').

It's cluttered and confused and noisy and messy because that's the chaos inside Stickles' head. From self-doubt and extreme creative paranoia ("Throw my guitar down on the floor/No one cares what I've got to say any more... Innovation, I leave to smarter men/Pretty melodies don't fall out of the air for me; I've got to steal them from somewhere") to a please-make-it-stop petulance ("I'm wishing I was back in utero") and childhood disappointment ("I learned to play the guitar in the seventh grade in order to convince everyone I was a renegade... I couldn't fool anyone. I couldn't even fool myself. I was just another book on the shelf") via some nameless, shapeless dread ("There is not a doctor who can diagnose me/I am dying slowly from Patrick Stickles Disease") it's fair to say this could all sound more than a touch self-indulgent. But put to the jubilant, ramshackle music this diarising becomes The Airing Of Grievances: a brilliant record that says precisely, ‘This is what exactly what being young feels like, sometimes it's good and sometimes it's so awful one has to write a song.'

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