New Jersey indie rockers Titus Andronicus, named after William Shakespeare’s first tragedy, return with their sixth studio album, An Obelisk. It comes comes just 15 months after predecessor A Productive Cough. Prolific frontman Patrick Stickles wrote both albums around the same time but split the material into two albums. An Obelisk‘s bare-bones power is the yang to Cough’s more experimental arrangements and adventurous production. From vocals to guitar playing, these songs are fast, loud and aggressive, making for an in-your-face experience. Stickles brought in Bob Mould to produce, with Mould’s hands-off style allowing the band’s work to shine through.
The album opens with the antithetic three-chord-punk throwback “Just Like a Ringing Bell,” a scorching rocker that recalls the lo-fi punk of Black Flag and the Ramones. The song charges forward with Stickles defiantly proclaiming, “They’re making a dirty fortune selling something that’s barely working/ An inferior version of rock and roll.” That builds up to a blistering guitar solo. “Troubleman Unlimited” takes an indie rock turn with a Springsteen sensibility. Stickles’ rough and raw vocal makes for a surprisingly infectious chorus: “I used to be a problem child.”
The album ramps back up for the ferocious energy of the social criticism with “(I Blame) Society.” After a shouted gang-vocal-style chorus, Stickles proclaims, “I’m not sick/ It’s the world that is/ They’re hiding their disease.” The song’s a punk rock anthem against The Man. The swaying groove of “My Body and Me” serves as the album’s first left turn, with a bluesy stomp helping it stand out as one of the best moments. The guitar solo is straight lyrical blues soaring above the crunchy fuzz of the rhythm guitar.
The epic “Hey Ma” continues the blues-influenced kick, bringing a Dropkick-Murphy’s-esque Celtic punk jam worthy of raising a pint. “Beneath the Boot” and “On the Street” serve as a collective homage to some of the earliest days of punk rock. Clocking in at just under 90 seconds and just over one minute, the songs get in and get out at breakneck pace.
The five-and-a-half-minute “Within the Gravitron” bookends the firecracker punk numbers as the album’s longest song. It has a bit of a poppy bounce to it, but still has the foundation of the grimy New Jersey sound. The song’s bass-heavy interlude builds into an extended drum break that reintroduces the chorus to bring the song home. With thick guitar tones and right rhythm, the song showcases the band firing on all cylinders, though any cut on the album abounds in frenetic energy.
The upbeat punk rock returns with “The Lion Inside,” as sweeping chord voicings paint a layered indie rock canvas. “Tumult Around the World” closes the album out in a more dramatic fashion, channelling Titus Andronicus’ earlier, more complicated sound for a valiant and defiant conclusion. Following an extended guitar solo, the track mellows to Stickles singing in near a cappella over a quiet building drum and bass pulse—before unleashing a scream of the song’s title. Harmonized backing vocals help land the album in intense beauty.
An Obelisk may not necessarily be covering new ground, but it showcases the best aspects of Stickles and company: energetic indie punk and sharp lyrics of rage and defiance against a broken system.
Follow writer Mike DeWald at Twitter.com/mike_dewald.