As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way."- Frank Costanza
That could have very well been spoken by singer Patrick Stickles to describe Titus Andronicus: abrasive indie / punk rock drenched in self doubt, as sung on their title song, "Titus Andornicus," which more or less summarizes their philosophy: "Throw my guitar down on the floor / No one cares what I've got to say anymore / I didn't come here to be damned with faint praise / I'll write my masterpiece some other day / I'm repeating myself again / 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 / it doesn't matter what you do or how hard you try."
Originally released in May of 2008 on Troubleman Unlimited Records, The Airing of Grievances was deservedly released on a bigger label, XL, January of this year. TA have the rare ability to turn on a dime anywhere from punk to shoegaze, fill their lyrics with art school student references, yet have the pretension of Negative Approach. TA's singer Patrick Stickles sounds like a young, manic Conor Oberst who, instead of spending his youth self-loathing in the corner of his dark, dark bedroom with an acoustic guitar, was stage diving at punk shows in New Jersey basements.
TA swing back and forth between concise punk anthems and longer, more musically tranquil tracks that build up and burn down. The closer "Albert Camus" does the latter effectively, but it is done best on the two-parter "No Future" and "No Future Part Two: The Day After No Future." The first part acts as a bruising, meandering mountain climb while all seven minutes of "No Future Part Two" becomes the phonetic, charging release you forgot part one needed.
However, the band is best when they stick to their shorter, more rollicking songs. "Joset of Nazareth's Blues" starts out exactly like Bruce Springsteen's "The Promised Land," harmonica and all, and the couplet "Until you hang upon such a cross, you won't know a thing about laughter or loss / From Galilee to Gethsemane to Golgotha is a short walk, a short, short walk" is decidedly Springsteen, though Bruce has never sounded this pressing or aurally lo-fi.
Few bands sound as sure as themselves on their debut as Titus Andronicus do. 45 minutes of ramshackle rock, TA don't break any new ground, nor do they try to. If anything, they're saying a big "fuck you" to bands who try to and will most likely fail, which is refreshing from a new band who can't be described with a "nu" prefix or a "core" suffix.