What do Feb. 9 and March 9 have in common? Well, they’re both dates tied to the Civil War, for starters, and it’s no coincidence that Titus Andronicus has scheduled its new record release (in the forms of a vinyl single and the album proper) to those dates respectively. The New Jersey-based band’s new album, The Monitor, uses the war as an extended metaphor throughout. (Therefore it makes sense that the 7” vinyl single for the song “Four Score and Seven,” comes out on Abraham Lincoln’s 201st birthday Feb. 9, followed a month later by the CD and 2LP release of The Monitor on the 148th anniversary of the Battle of Hampton Roads.) The album, a follow-up to the band’s 2008 debut The Airing of Grievances, includes contributions from members of The Hold Steady, Wye Oak, Vivian Girls and Ponytail.
The Monitor is riddled with historical references (the album is 65 minutes long, since the Civil War ended in 1865) as well as band-specific ones (201 is not only Honest Abe’s age this year; it’s also the area code of Titus Andronicus’ native Glen Rock, N.J.), but what in the world does a Civil War-inspired album sound like? According to a statement from Titus frontman, Patrick Stickles, “It has long passages of ambient drones, blazing saxophone, pianos homages to A Charlie Brown Christmas complete marching drumlines, Thunder Tube solos, 14-minute Billy Bragg knock-offs, backwards liturgical pieces, bombastic country duets, garbage cans hit with tambourines, choirs of angels with bromantic faces, probably too many spoken word interludes lifted from cassette tapes, and, of course, the hissy-fit punk songs and off-key warbling we have come to expect from Titus Andronicus.”
The Monitor is written in linear form, following a main character as he travels from his New Jersey home to Boston. Along the way, he grapples with a variety of themes and issues (anything from regional identity to whether or not the Civil War did indeed end), adopting the mantra “the enemy is everywhere.”
“Through and through, it is a wholehearted and potentially ill-advised grab for some sort of imaginary brass ring, the sound of a band desperate for success and defiantly unafraid of failure,” Stickles says. “That was the idea, at least.”