Titus Andronicus: Local Business (XL) 

New Jersey punkers Titus Andronicus step back from the epic sweep of The Monitor for a lean and fun third album.

After that ambitious and surprisingly cohesive Civil War concept album, it's refreshing to see the band wielding some irreverent humor to balance out weightier material. The only mission statement here is urgency.

Album opener "Ecce Homo" finds singer Patrick Stickles issuing an existential call to arms: "There's nothing in the universe with any kind of objective purpose." The question for Stickles is whether life is just being bored, or a lot more—and he gives both answers. Then, on "Still Life With Hot Deuce and Silver Platter," Stickles turns around and takes aim at the same sort of arrogant self-importance: "You're going through phases / Are you some kind of man / Or a moon?"

Two songs later, there's the balls-to-the-wall "Food Fight!," a Jerry Lee Lewis-meets-punk burst that puts its stamp on the world in just 71 seconds. Next up is a vastly different song, the eight-minute, paranoia-tinged confessional "My Eating Disorder." What's amazing about the songs—and the album's sequencing—is that both reach a cathartic conclusion. Whether it's mischief or frustration, the release is what matters.

Life includes the big and the small, the heavy and the light, hulking incomprehensibility and simple joys. And by taking things to the brink and then stepping back, Titus Andronicus capture what's so essential about that balance.

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