Over the past several months, I’ve run into more than a handful of bands whose sounds failed to match my impression of them. For some it was a matter of the style that surrounded them, but for others, it was the result of a mistaken first impression. If I’ve learned one thing here, it’s that I need to distinguish when that impression was made. For a select few, that impression hasn’t been refreshed since I was in high school, which leads to some obvious issues. Of course, it’s a welcome surprise when starting into something like Titus Andronicus and hearing rollicking guitars and thick vocals.
There’s no mistaking this for anything but the kind of fun, as-near-to-produced punk as a punk band would let themselves be produced. This is to say, it has an edge of polish. It’s tastefully rough and deliberately catchy, and they actually work within the confines of a standard song’s length. There’s an unmistakable debt to and sonic hint of 90s acts like Flogging Molly or Dropkick Murphys, that fun-for-everyone danceable punk with a Celtic tint. Those bands were colored more strongly by that latter tone than what we see on Local Business, but there’s certainly an edge of it. More important though are the big and clear riffs and the meaty vocals that Patrick Stickles spits out at us.
Andronicus sound confident, and we get the feeling that we’re in good hands. The album’s opening line off of Ecce Homo has Stickles shouting, “OK, I think by now we’ve established everything is inherently worthless.” It’s a refreshing and important line to come at us face first at the album’s front. It’s easy to discount one line’s importance, after all, so many songs pass by in which we can’t register a thing, but there’s a certain force with which this is delivered that makes it as much of a greeting as any opening riff. With it, Andronicus gives us the impression that we’re coming into the third act of something universally important. We’re thrilled to jump on board. It’s a cocky start, but the level of certainty is welcoming.
If you’re anything like me, this past week has been a battle between productivity and playing the rerelease of Crazy Taxi for iOS. The game’s gameplay is as much the star as its soundtrack, which features The Offspring and Bad Religion exclusively. Local Business speaks equally well to these fist-in-the-air, context specific tracks. It’s raucous, the type of thing that you’d guiltily blast in the car but know that for the sake of safety you shouldn’t. We get long, rolling lyrics that pair perfectly with the spiraling snare beats. “Now these miles of angry motorists stretch as far as eyes can see. There are a billion breathing beings, each with schedules to keep.” It’s all a little offbeat and too on-the-nose to suffer from pseudo-meaning, and that’s good and bad. It doesn’t really matter what Stickles is singing for the most part. This type of long lyric is meant to tie these tracks into full and polished packages, and it runs along them like a thread.
The band calms down very occasionally. In a Big City turns the band’s sound into something more grand and arena style but with a slow and sparkling pace. It’s a nice turn that perhaps speaks to the band’s past or future sound, but it isn’t necessarily needed. It’s all coherent enough, but when we get a twangy, rambling track like (I am the) Electric Man, it isn’t important enough to be worth detracting from the otherwise strong, excited pacing and attitude. To keep it up so long only to put on a different mask a few times late into the album doesn’t help to keep our attention, and rather, is more liable to lose it.
Local Business isn’t necessarily the kind of fun that you want to have, but it is undeniably fun. For those still in love with the common-man’s punk of those 90s acts, Titus Andronicus is a must listen. Outside of this scope, though it’s rocking and enjoyable, it’s probably best heard in pieces: a track at a bar or a party. These are meant to make a crowd get together, and it does that well. Of course, it’s their broader simplicity that accomplishes this. That makes for a good piece at a show, but it can’t quite make a solid listen over headphones.