Named for one of the U.S. Navy’s legendary, ironclad battleships, and with a loose civil war concept in tow, Titus Andronicus shows signs of maturity on The Monitor, not just in their weighty theme and the abundance of historical references, but also musically. Coming off their lo-fi, garage-punk debut, the four-piece aimed high for their second album, and incorporated a surplus of instrumentation (bagpipes, fiddle, trombone, and cello, among other things) that was performed by a who’s-who in the underground indie rock circuit. Guest musicians from the Hold Steady, Double Dagger, Vivian Girls, Ponytail, Spider Bags, Hallelujah the Hills, Wye Oak, the Felice Brothers, Deer Tick, and Dinowalrus all lend a hand in beefing up the production value, taking TA’s sound from that of a blue-collar bar band to a chugging Celtic punk arena powerhouse. There are striking similarities to the Pogues’ drunken caterwauling and the Replacements’ straining voracity, as well as Bright Eyes’ affinity for literary drama, and while it’s impressive that the band fills such big shoes, the biggest achievement of The Monitor is that it feels so significant in its own right. It’s the sound of a band dipping into classic sounds, and spreading them out to make their own classic. Singer Patrick Stickles is completely booze-drenched and riled as he rifles through journal entries about alcoholism and loserdom in down-and-out pub-shoutalongs. He howls with sincerity “there is nothing about myself I respect, still haven’t done anything I did not later regret,“ and weaves self-depreciation into sadly funny quips, “Talk about our grandkids as we stroke our grey beards, funny that we’re doing car bombs after all of these years.” Blowing past the hour mark with muscular, multi-segmented songs that branch off into sax solos, honky tonk piano parts, and faux civil war snippets, the record is ambitious, to say the least (think, a modern-day Bat Out of Hell), but it never feels too heavy-handed. Fourteen-minute closer “The Battle of Hampton Roads” is as riveting as it is ambitious, and that's saying something.
The Monitor Review
by Jason Lymangrover