There’s this strange urge that lies in my body that I sometimes can’t help but water. I’m not sure where it comes from, but I am utterly helpless when it comes to the desire to write about music. Now this is one of the most self-indulgent forms of expression there is. Music itself is bad enough, but the idea that what I have to say about someone else’s art…fuck. Obviously, the rebuttal to what anyone has to say about a pop song is “what the fuck difference does your opinion make?” Because that’s all any of this is. Opinions. But somehow the opinions of a select few are seen as worthwhile. Music journalists are allowed to even give their readers a grade, to let you know the tangible worth of someone else’s creation in their notatallhumble opinions.
For the most part music journalists focus on what it is about a song or an album that makes it good, but I never got into that sort of thing. People have always told me that (since I don’t stop talking about it) I should write about music for a living, but I find that to be too mathematical of a process. Reviews tend to focus on mathematics. The C to A Minor fall. The build up to the chorus. A key change. The layers of instrumentation. All of these are calculated, tested formulas that any good musician fully understands. The journalists are just telling you about the methods.
I focus on why I like it, which is the ultimate form of self-indulgence because all I’m really trying to do is talk about myself. This is also why no one will ever give a shit about my opinion and anyone who would be interested in something like that has already read Lester Bangs.
However, when a certain record or a certain song comes around, I have to tell anyone who will listen why it’s important.
When it comes to my favorite albums, the ones that I always hold closest are the ones that were there at a certain time in my life. Goddamnit by the Alkaline Trio when I was 15. I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning by Bright Eyes when I got my heart broken. Tim by the Replacements when I turned 21. “Thunder Road” when you fall in love. Music has always been closest to me when I feel distant from the people around me. You see I like to live by this idea that I’m special, that I have feelings no one else can really understand, that I feel things differently from others (I also try to make music too, if you hadn’t already guessed) and when a song comes on that makes me think “wow, I know exactly what that guy is going through” I fall in love. And when you’re 15 or heartbroken or 21 or falling in love, there are a lot of people singing songs for you.
When I turned 23, a recent college graduate working a minimum wage food service job, stuck in a town that was (and still is) growing less and less charming each day, I didn’t really hear many people singing songs for me. “Dan’s Song” by Frank Turner and “Intransit” by the Lawrence Arms are a couple that I’ve found (“Unsatisfied” is in a league of its own—I wish I had heard that song for the first time two months ago, I’d still have it on repeat…sometimes you just hear them too early), but this is generally an uncharted territory in the realm of topics for singers to sing about. I’m not sad, not unhappy, just unsure. It’s cool to get drunk whenever I want to and sleep til noon but I feel like I’m forgetting everything I’ve learned. You have no idea how much I would love to write a fucking reading response to one of the four books I’ve read in the past 6 months. But there really isn’t much to be explored here because it doesn’t feel like anything. Not like a broken heart or being head over heels in love (though I am head over heels in love). It’s just an emptiness that’s hard to pass through.
And for the last few months of that emptiness, I’d been striking out on music. Listening to a lot of bands that I thought were absolutely great, but emotionally distant. It’s great to listen to Revolver but I don’t relate to Lennon and McCartney the way I relate to Kelly and McCaughan. New bands like the Drive-By Truckers and Richmond Fontaine were cool, but I had nothing in common with these people, I’ll never feel close to them
I was nearing the point of panic, wondering if I had started to reach the point where I wasn’t going to relate to music the way I once had. There’s that quote from The Breakfast Club, “when you grow up, your heart dies” and I had started to feel like this was a reality. That music, and the love for music, the only part of my life that had stayed consistent over the past 10 years, was slowly starting to change. That it was becoming purely aesthetic. That what a song said was beginning to lose precedence to the way it sounded. Might as well start to settle into emotionless classic rock now, right?
Then I listened to The Monitor again. And again. And again.
When it leaked my roommate and I were both a little underwhelmed but he was eventually converted. And I let my copy sit in the car for a couple weeks before giving it a listen, knowing a couple of the songs a bit. After that I was hooked and when it did leave the CD player in my car it was always on the top my stack, ready to be put back in at a moments notice.
Soon I was driving with the windows down, faster than hell, my stereo at a decibel of loud reserved for the likes of the Lawrence Arms and Jawbreaker, screaming “TRAMPS LIKE US BABY WE WERE BORN TO DIE!!!” Holding an invisible microphone to my mouth for the entirety of “Richard II,” pointing straight ahead with my right index finger as I growled “WHERE ALL OF YOUR FRIENDS NOW?? AHHHHHHHHHHH!!!” wishing that I could only be pointing to the asshole that this song is about for me. And saying aloud, to myself, “holy fuck,” when I heard the line “I’m sorry Dad, no, I’m not making this up.” [I’m well aware of how ridiculous this sound, but…] I felt young again.
This album, by a band that I had known only a little bit about before, had effectively become the soundtrack to the past 8 months of my life and there is a song for every long car ride, drunken argument, panic attack, massive night, laugh, cry, disappointment, and tender moment with the girl who somehow hasn’t given up on me yet.
It really is that good.
The overzealous production centers around Patrick Stickles, a recent college graduate who has the same affinity for literature as he does for Seinfeld. But his favorite pastime is a shared loathing of both himself and his home state of New Jersey. He begins to describe his transitive state on “No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future” stating “All I want for Christmas is no feelings now OR EVER AGAIN!!!” Stickles is very demanding on this song, forcing you to look uncomfortably at the state of mind he’s in for the first three minutes of the track. He is however, very rewarding for those of us paying attention as the final half of the song provides us with the singalong chorus of “You will always be a loser” as the end leads into “Richard II” the album’s most accessible track.
Stickles lyrics are brutal and his overzealous delivery is all too fitting. The album is chock full of one liners and spastic release (“I will not deny my humanity I will be ROLLING IN IT like a pig in feces”) and the overthetop instrumentation somehow works as is evident on “A Pot In Which To Piss” a song about the band’s history. “Nothing means anything anymore, everything is less than zero” Stickles drawls, before defiantly proclaiming “I’m at the end of my rope and I feel like swingin’.” The song has several movements all of which have their charm and all fitting with the matter at hand. Titus Andronicus, within the complete uncertainty of Stickles’ subject matter, has built a perfect understanding of how it should be presented. Springsteen would be proud.
As the album continues the predicament of being in transit is at times celebrated, looked at with utter helplessness, and defiant stood up to—many times within the same song. Drinks are poured in merriment at one moment and in defeat the next.
The last track, “The Battle of Hampton Roads,” begins with a sound clip from Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address which states, “I am loathe to close. We are not enemies, but friends.” With this, Stickles begins to move forward, singing, “The things I used to love, I have come to reject/The things I used to hate I have learned to accept.” He exposes himself and his thought process, making overtly personal statements about the world around him, loneliness, and ultimately his solution (“I’ve destroyed everything that wouldn’t make me more like Bruce Springsteen.” Fuck. Yes). With his final thought, he makes peace with his enemies, acknowledging their purpose and his need for them. “Please don’t ever leave. Please don’t ever leave.”
And we’re left to move on. To live with our enemies and our friends. And that’s all this album makes me wanna do. Live. It makes wanna do a fucking car bomb, it makes me wanna drink keg beer til I throw up and make a dick out of myself. It makes me wanna read poetry and see movies I’ve never seen before. It makes me wanna stay up til 3 in the morning talking to my friends and wake up at 7 and get right out of bed and write about nothing and feel proud of myself for it. It makes me wanna make music if even just for the benefit of showing it to my friends (and hoping my enemies hear it too). It makes me wanna hear more music, more songs about heartbreak and hating yourself and being in love and hoping that you never grow up. It makes me wanna go out and live and drink and surround myself with people. When for the past six months I wanted nothing to do with any of those things.
That’s what this album is. It’s not “a concept album about the Civil War” it’s not “the enemy is everywhere.” It’s not an 8.7 and it’s certainly not 3 ½ fucking stars out of 5. It’s how you feel about it.
This 24 year old self-loathing prick made a record about being a 24 year old self-loathing prick and being a 23 year old self-loathing prick, I can't help but love him for it. I feel camaraderie, I feel like he’s said everything that I’ve been feeling way better than I ever could; and it gives me hope. Maybe to know that there is always room to make something that sounds new. Maybe to know that someone feels sorta the same way as me and to hear it expressed so uniquely in turn makes me feel like I am, in fact, different from everyone else. I am unique. I am special. I will always be a loser (and that's okay).
Or maybe it’s just nice to be reminded of the reason I fell in love with music in the first place. The way it can make you feel even when you’re not listening to it.
But who gives a shit about why I like it, right? I’m just saying that you might.