January 29, 2009

Test Spin: Titus Andronicus

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For an old guy who grew up on the likes of Dinosaur Jr. and Frank Black in high school, this self-conscious, over-literate crew of suburban Jersey, white kids shredding distorted guitars and stomping to punk anthems in t­heir basement seems like a throw-back to the ’90s era of happy nihilism. Maybe it’s the angst of another recession that’s breeding more broody, pop-inflected hooks?
Preferring to scream faux-poetic lyrics than whisper a tender “fuck you,” Titus Andronicus’ debut album, The Airing of Grievances, relentlessly appropriates everything from old-school Clash to shoe-gazing “sweet fuzz,” throwing in a little bluesy harmonica, whiney voice-over readings of Shakespeare and even a piano arpeggio. Many, understandably, will think they’re pretentious and derivative. But if punk culture is stealing willy-nilly from other icons to empty them out, maybe this is the closest thing we have to punk today when punk itself has a socially ensconced, easily interpolated style. None the less, for all their thrashing, they’re still intended for tough-skinned, tender-hearted slackers who’ve learned to ironically revel in their melancholia.