Titus Andronicus: The Monitor (XL)

One of the more impressive young bands to revel in loud, sloppy angst is New Jersey's Titus Andronicus. The Monitor may be loosely based on the Civil War, but it is certifiably ambitious and remarkable.

Few young bands show the willingness to incorporate or even attempt the range of styles and ideas that Titus Andronicus masterfully executes throughout The Monitor. There is the drunken hoedown "Theme From 'Cheers,'" the barroom ballad "To Old Friends and New," and the E Street shuffling opener "A More Perfect Union," which nods to its influence ("Tramps like us / baby, we were born to die"). Then there are the epics.

With five of the album's 10 songs stretching over six minutes—and nearly every song taking stylistic detours—Titus Andronicus risks overstretching and exhausting its creative resources. Thankfully, the group recruited friends from the Hold Steady, Vivian Girls, and Ponytail (among other bands) to keep the album's fire appropriately stoked. The payoff is clearly evidenced on the album's closer, "The Battle of Hampton Roads," a monstrous 14-minute rocker. The song bounds from full-band rev-ups to plaintive passages that build into cathartic outbursts; from horn-laden shoegaze to, naturally, a bagpipe interlude, before its slashing, frenzied conclusion. A musical stew that succeeds far beyond any expectations, the song serves as a metaphor for the entire album.

In case it sounds as if the album's charms may be transitory or overwhelming, nearly 30 listens have not dampened The Monitor's ability to engage and impress me.

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