Little Lincolns: Titus Andronicus Will Be Heard

Patrick Stickles and his merry men ape the Boss and other founding fathers.

Patrick Stickles is a voracious singer and guitarist who gobbles up vast chunks of indie rock, Western history, and pop culture to fuel his lyrics. Riddled with varied references and swaggering with a ragged grandeur, the band's ambitious second album, The Monitor, hooks into the parallels between the blue-vs.-gray America forced into the Civil War and today's red-vs.-blue successor. Now more than ever, as Stickles sees it, a battle rages for the identity of our country.

"If destruction be our lot, we ourselves must be its author and finisher": This quote from Abraham Lincoln leads off the album's seven-minute opener, "A More Perfect Union."

"A More Perfect Union" is a bustling thesis, moving on from Lincoln and nods to various Jersey landmarks to "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and a whooping chorus that screams "The enemy is everywhere." It's a bold linking of past, present, and—as hinted by Stickles' paranoid, strangled delivery—the future. If that reads like a downer, it's not.

"We don't want to be taken too seriously," admits Stickles in a recent phone call. "You've gotta laugh. We don't want people to think we're these dour, frowning characters, even though we take our music and our themes rather seriously. It can't all be doom and gloom."

Still, on "Four Score and Seven" Stickles lashes out at mankind's capacity for cruelty, presumably referring to a modern America where a wealthy few trample over the impoverished masses: "It's still us against them," Stickles cries at the song's conclusion, "and they're winning."

Far from defeatists, Titus Andronicus is more rousing and careening than most indie-rock bands. Spiking Stickles' hungry songwriting with a pub-punk grit and enlisting from The Hold Steady, Vivian Girls, and Ponytail bolsters The Monitor's outsized, falling-down vibe.

As for that struggle for America's future, Stickles isn't as pessimistic as he sometimes sounds on The Monitor. "If we didn't think this world was full of great possibilities," he offers, "there'd be nothing to really be that angry about."

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