Thursday, March 22, 2012

Album Review: Titus Andronicus LLC MIxtape Vol. 1

"Okay #FUCKTHEBULLSHIT it's almost time to do something to prove that I actually love you" - thus did Titus Andronicus' front man Patrick Stickles announce, via one of his trademark boldly hastagged tweets, that the band would be releasing their new single as part of a free mixtape at 12:19 am early Monday morning. It was a move totally in keeping with the group's idealist punk ethos and love of the all-access world of the 21st century (remember, this is a band that will occasionally remind its Twitter followers to #calltitus). Labeled Titus Andronicus LLC Mixtape Vol. 1, it's clear that there was care and effort put in assembling, arranging and labeling the mix as a thoughtful freebie when they could have just as easily culled the best tracks and slapped them on a new "deluxe version" release of their last album instead, how refreshing.

First and foremost Titus Andronicus LLC is noteworthy because it features their new single "Upon Viewing Oregon's Landscape With The Flood Of Detritus". It's a relatively tight (for Titus' standards) song containing within it a sprawling travelogue narrative with Stickles wandering the country, sampling the disillusionment of his generation. Choruses about losing your dreams and being thrown away by society will fit comfortably alongside "your life is over" and "you will always be a loser" in the hall of rousing Titus moments and lines like "I'm writing manifestos on an old BOA receipt" and the "oi oi oi"s at the end push all the right buttons. It's a charging slice of uplifting and catchy punk that bodes well for the band's new incarnation. This song alone would be worth the download, which means that, since the whole thing's free, you can think of the other 22 tracks as one big B-Side and still be coming out way ahead.

As it is, the rest of the material is pretty good and can (minus the live version of "Titus Andronicus" B-Side "Every Time I See The Light Part Two") be divided into three categories categories - demos of Monitor songs, selected covers (mostly live) as well as a sprinkling of Patrick Stickles' pre, post and inter-song musings and shout-outs. The latter do give the mix a sense of pacing and intimacy as Stickles wears his tortured mix of painful self-consciousness and unapologetic beliefs on his sleeve with each awkward joke or crowd admonition. In fact, the tone of the endeavor is set by the opening track where he waxes rhapsodic about returning to the band's native Jersey to play the legendary Stone Pony before launching into a loose and happy version of the great Thin Lizzy's "The Boys Are Back In Town" - it's immediately clear that this will be a fun return of the Glen Rock rockers.

The demos are easily least essential part of mixtape excepting the early version of "My Time Outside The Womb" (a song that I do, admittedly, have a soft spot for). Recorded "sometime in early 2006", this take strips the song down to an acoustic guitar, shaker and vocal harmonies which really lets it shine as a sweet pop tune of the kind that the Replacements excelled in circa 1985. It not only shows us the development of the song, but also reveals a entirely different approach to it that ultimately wasn't taken. That is, to be sure,  more than the rest of the demos here can offer. While not uninteresting to hear for devoted fans they also offer few surprises. It's the songs you already know, scratchier, sans instruments beyond bass, guitars and drums and with the vocals turned way-the-fuck-up. One thing they do highlight however, is the band's increasing playing ability, as they sound tighter on these early takes than on some of the songs released on their debut album.

The covers meanwhile, are generally of a higher quality and should spur greater interest. The clear standout here is their version of Television Personalities' "Anxiety Block", which was released in late 2010 as a split single with Free Energy's cover of "I'm Going Down". Stickles has never shied away from his own psychological issues so the song's pleas for psychiatric relief must strike pretty close to home and the recording is perhaps the cleanest they've put to vinyl yet. Other highlights include their rousing version of Cock Sparrar's "Riot Squad", complete with a half-decent sung British accent and a slapdash version of "Treatment Bound" which somehow manages to exactly capture the original's half-assed, drunken charm while still feeling distinctively like a Titus Andronicus song.

As I was listening to the covers it hit me - Titus Andronicus is what it would have looked like if Nirvana had decided to spurn Geffen and stay indie. Just like Cobain loved trumpeting his indie darlings like the Meat PuppetsVaselines and the (then less famous) Pixies, Patrick Stickles misses no opportunity to rep his love for bands like Spider Bags or the Modern Lovers. Both Titus and Nirvana had strong but not fully realized lo-fi debut albums, both wrote melodic songs wrapped in noise and bombast and both made a huge leap forward with their second album. The difference is that while Cobain decided to make Nevermind - an album of concise, punchy Butch Vig'd hits, Stickles went the opposite direction with an album full of catchy but lengthy songs swathed in pretentious narration, mid-fi noise and an overarching Civil War concept.

Titus' choice of covers on here (which doesn't include their cover of "Breed") shows those clashing indie-statesmen and populist tendencies at work. While they clearly feel a need to use their popularity to push the unsung punk heroes, they also include more than a few goofy, fun classics. I do believe that Titus Andronicus is the only band out there reminding people just how incredibly influential and talented early Weezer was, with both "El Scorcho" and "Undone (The Sweater Song)" making appearances ("Say It Ain't So" also appeared on an earlier, fan-created mixtape). I can personally attest to how joy-inducing those live versions are for people of our generation who cut our teeth on The Blue Album and Pinkerton. They also kick up their heels with a spirited version of the Bobbly Fuller via the Clash rocker "I Fought The Law". Combine these song choices with their earlier Thin Lizzy homage and you've got a pretty good selection of songs that will please punks, millennials and classic rock fans alike. Like Ted Leo before them, Titus Andronicus may stay indie, but that doesn't mean they can't have fun, right?

Throughout the live version of "Undone" Stickles urges the crowd to consider their behavior in an Ian MacKaye-style admonition even as the band rips the song apart. Before walking off, he reminds the audience that we should all "think about what [we] want our generation to be remembered for". A self-described existentialist, the eternal end is seemingly never far from Stickles mind and it clearly effects how he lives his life and operates the band. Why keep fighting? Why break your back for fans? Why struggle to retain optimism when irony and cynicism are so much easier? He knows that otherwise "all we're gonna have left when we're gone is pictures of us looking like morons - think about it." 

Download - Albums
Titus Andronicus LLC Mixtape Vol 1.
The Feats Of Strength

Download - Covers, Etc.
A More Perfect Union [Dinowalrus Factory Remix]
To Have And Have Not (feat. The So-So Glos) [Billy Bragg]
Don't Let Our Youth Go To Waste [Galaxie 500]
Breed [Nirvana]

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