Local Business Turns Rage Into Joy
In an age where most rock is either played in stadiums or dripping with lo-fi buzz, bands like Titus Andronicus feel necessary. Even as a punk act, the band is always pushing into post-punk territory, owing more to The Replacements than the Sex Pistols. Its third album, Local Business, continues this reign, bringing energy and musical ingenuity while adding to its gruff, powerful formula by employing country and folk influences. It’s a deeply emotional piece that takes problems and negativity and converts them into raging punk energy.
The album is possibly the band’s most fluid and clear-sounding, doing away with brooding vocals low in the mix and making albums of high-octane post-punk. “Still Life With Hot Deuce On Silver Platter,” with its infectious energy and powerful instrumentation, sounds like a track straight off of a classic Wire album. “My Eating Disorder” has a similar, rough-edged sound, employing flaring solos to give the track a burst of energy.
Still, it’s clear that tracks on Local Business borrow from other areas of music way outside of the punk and post-punk genres. “In A Big City,” the album’s first single, is a boisterous affair that seems to stem from classic midwestern folk music. It is a rambling, rousing track that echoes an amped-up Woody Guthrie. “Food Fight,” a brief, harmonica-led instrumental, meshes a traditional blues sound with Andronicus’ signature punk roots. A great deal of the tracks, like “Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape With the Flood of Detritus,” feel like a great mixing of two disparate styles, as if Johnny Cash had somehow joined The Clash.
But comparisons to other bands and sounds aren’t quite fair to Titus Andronicus. Even as the band’s sound is evocative of other classic groups like Wire and The Clash, it still feels unique, as the musicians meld their influences into a consistently powerful yet down-to-earth sound. It feels like a major development in the band’s career trajectory: a group tackling the old while still making new. All in all, the album has a cohesive sense of joy in its rousing sound as vocalist Patrick Stickles screams to the point where it seems like he’ll burst.
But for all the joy and power that’s on the album, there seems to be a general theme of tragedy and depression within the lyrics. The album’s morose ten-minute closer, “Tried To Quit Smoking,” features lyrics like “It’s not that I don’t love you/It’s just that I hate everyone.” There’s a strange dichotomy between the power that most of the tracks contain and the depression and anger that define the lyrics. “In a Big City” comments on loneliness and stagnancy: “Moved over to the other side of the river/Now I’m a drop in a deluge of hipsters.” The disparity between sound and lyrics is certainly not a new part of songwriting, but these are truly anthems. These are the kinds of tracks that are meant to be shouted live, odes to troubling times that take bottled emotion and sentiment and launch them in a fit of rage and joy.
Local Business is, at its core, a great rock album. It features the same kind of emotional resonance that makes classic punk albums so enjoyable, yet it also feels like its own journey into a world of folk-punk that few musicians are exploring now. Titus Andronicus is venturing into new territory, and it’s a joy to see them do it.