Review: A Productive Cough

titus-andronicus-a-productive-cough-vinyl-lp-2311639_1024x1024.jpgI once bought two tickets to a Titus Andronicus concert, and a few weeks after I had my first panic attack. I don’t think the two are correlated. A friend introduced me the year before to the band’s sophomore masterwork The Monitor, and I’ve been a fan of their Americana punk ever since. When they released the tour schedule in late 2012 to back up their third album Local Business, I hopped on as early as I could to get tickets. And then a few weeks later I gave them away.

There’s something appropriate about giving up Titus Andronicus tickets due to a nervous breakdown. Frontman Patrick Stickles often sings about his own fights with his brain, from eating disorders to manic states to dealing with New Jersey. And while I’m confident that Stickles’s albeit pertinent wisdom did not cause my own troubles, it didn’t help that I was constantly repeating bite-sized Titus-isms like “YOUR LIFE IS OVER” or “YOU WILL ALWAYS BE A LOSER” in my head throughout the previous year. It probably wasn’t the healthiest soundtrack.

But listeners will always search for something familiar, and in Stickles I found someone as pale and skinny as I brandishing a guitar like an extension of his arms. He sported a long, black beard to cover his bony face; I sported a beard in a rebellion of the restrictions previously placed on me by Catholic School. And maybe most important to my hippie school environment: it sounded like he hated America, but loved its music.

I found myself both shocked and delighted to discover the band’s most recent release. At seven songs and only 46 minutes long, it’s downright puny compared to their last release, a 29-song 92-minute epic with a name to match: The Most Lamentable Tragedy. Even this most recent album’s name, A Productive Cough, sounds inconsequential in comparison to its predecessor (the band seems to have realized this as well with a press release that looks like they’re getting out ahead of the naysayers). But Titus is The Great American Rock ‘n Roll Band, and until they release something that insults their title, I will twice purchase all of their new material.

Thankfully, A Productive Cough lives up to this standard despite a considerable shift in their sound. Gone not only are the plentiful interludes and historical allegories, but also the high-energy thrash that garnered them high punk esteem. In its place is slow-burning blues rock, a Bob Dylan cover, and ballads. A lot of fans won’t like this; I personally believe ballads are the band’s most underutilized asset, and hey, punk bands have to grow up sometimes.

Stickles’s immediately quotable choruses, the band’s stickiest strength, sound just as cultish as ever before. “Real Talk,” a classic blues romp with horns and a hype man, is constructed entirely of these aphorisms, fashioning a State of the Union that’s as bleak as it is toe-tapping. Ode to cashier-as-psychologist “Above the Bodega” continues ripping from the Americana songbook with handclaps and tambourines and “ooh sha la las,” as well as Stickles’s brutal honesty that he refuses to share with anybody who matters.

Though he always has a lot to say, Stickles has trouble knowing when to stop. Opener “Number One (In New York)” could’ve lost a few minutes off its runtime and had the same effect, as could have “(I’m) Like A Rolling Stone” (or just cut it entirely, it’s hard to cover Dylan). If you’re not into his voice, and I don’t blame you if you aren’t, nothing on this album is going to sway you away from his gravelly chops. There are two songs, however, that feature vocalist Megg Farrell, and “Crass Tattoo” doesn’t even have Stickles on it at all.

Nothing about this album is going to make you a Titus fan if you didn’t care for any of the previous albums, and that’s okay. Punk bands rarely last a decade without embarrassing themselves, and it seems that despite dropping everything that sounded punk to begin with, Titus Andronicus lives on as the Great American Rock ‘n Roll Band, even if myself and Steven Hyden are the only ones proclaiming it.

When I gave away my Titus tickets in 2012, simply stepping outside my dorm room and talking to my neighbor was an exhausting activity. I told myself that one day I would be well enough to mosh at a Titus Andronicus concert, but it wasn’t then. Well, friends, I’m glad to announce that I have once again purchased tickets to a Titus Andronicus concert, though unless they rehash some oldies or some intrepid audience members feel like throwing elbows to soft piano music, I probably won’t be moshing. But since the band has done some growing up in the last five years, it’s only appropriate that I have, too.

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Three Jams 2/22

A Jam That Came Out Yesterday – “I’ll Make You Sorry” – Screaming Females

Shoutout to NPR for their exposure yesterday, though I can’t say I expected to find some New Brunswick punk in my newsfeed this morning. Lead Marissa Paternoster mixes highly competent guitar work with a toned-down Sleater-Kinney growl, giving Screaming Females both maturity and teeth. There’s something about New Jersey, I guess.

A Jam That Came Out A Week Ago But I Wasn’t Anywhere Near A Computer So I Couldn’t Properly Geek Out About It Until Now – “Moon River” – Frank Ocean

Bless you, Frank.

A Jam That Was A Jam When It Came Out And Is Still A Jam – “Heaven” (Techno Remix) – DJ Sammy

In the sense that the original Bryan Adams track drips with gooey Canadian cheese, “Heaven” makes for an optimal early-aughts techno remix. I won’t say that the update is any less cheesy than the original (I’d be surprised if anyone born post-Diplo would ever give it a second listen). But it’s my cheesy, dammit.

 

My 50 Favorite Songs of 2017

The 2016 election results predicted a challenging, loud, and righteously angry music scene in 2017. That didn’t happen; rappers receded into the pharmacy, indie rock heroes decided for an unwarranted last go-around, and even the hard and fast stuff seemed a little less punchy than usual.

But by no means was 2017 disappointing (the music, anyway), just unexpected in its collective malaise. Here are my 50 favorites from a year I wish to forget. I guarantee you will like some of them.

50-46

50. “Made in China” – Higher Brothers

Higher Brothers understand the stereotypes, not just the Chinese ones, but the trap ones as well. “Made in China’s” true genius, however, lies in the subtext: everything with my country’s name on it belongs to me. That’s some neo-colonial swag.

49. “Boobs in California” – Titus Andromedon

Well, he’s not wrong.

48. “I’m The One” – DJ Khaled (4), Justin Bieber (2), Quavo, Chance the Rapper (6), Lil Wayne (5)

Had the biggest song in the history of the world not dropped, this probably would’ve been the song of the summer. Oh well.

47. “Little of Your Love” – HAIM (2)

HAIM rocks, no qualifiers necessary.

Others: “Want You Back

46. “Yeah Right” – Vince Staples (3), Kendrick Lamar (3)

Vince Staples the interview guest remains more fascinating than Vince Staples the musician. But he’s courageous enough to procure a beat from bubblegum bass queen SOPHIE (<3) and pass it off as artistic exploration. Having the biggest rapper on the planet contribute some words doesn’t hurt, either.

 

45-41

45. “Glow Like Dat” – Rich Chigga (2)

Brian Imanuel’s greatest accomplishment this year was surprising Post Malone with a mariachi rendition of “Congratulations.” His second greatest accomplishment was his transition from a joke rapper to a rapper that surprisingly doesn’t suck.

44. “Third of May/Odaigahara” – Fleet Foxes (2)

Fields and rivers and trees still exist, so that’s good.

43. “Die Young” – Sylvan Esso

Amelia Meath’s impeccable control of her deeper range gives “Die Young” a lower-body strength that many electro duos lack in their songs.

42. “Darling” – Real Estate (2)

Hehe, there’s a horse in the video.

41. “Road Head” – Japanese Breakfast

As mentioned on an earlier list, Michelle Zauner really really loves getting eaten out. But where previous cunnilingus…es (cunnilingi?) came with indie-rock fanfare, her new pastime involves introspection, trance, and maybe even a hint of regret. But not that much regret.

Tangent: Top 5 musical acts I saw this year

5. Radiator Hospital – the bar next to the Glass House – 11/17

4. Vince Staples/Kilo Kish – The Fonda – 4/12

3. Andrew W.K. – The Regent – 9/29

2. Sheer Mag – The Echo – 10/4

1. Los Campesinos!/Crying – The Teragram Ballroom – 2/25

This list was created upon the realization that I only went to five concerts this year.

40-36

40. “Havana” – Camila Cabello, Young Thug (4)

Forgive me for originally thinking “Havana” was a shameless, nostalgic cash grab. To my surprise, Camila Cabello is actually truly 100% born-on-the-island Cuban, and has as much right to Havana as she does to Mexico City, Miami, or East Atlanta. And while I still object to glorifying pre-revolution style and fashion as the international Cuban template, at least Cabello had the presence of mind to bring along Young Thug. That always makes things better.

39. “P.O.V.” – dvsn (2)

Maybe you’ve heard OVO crooners dvsn outside of the bedroom, but why exactly?

38. “2017-38” – Kaytranada

Kaytranada owes at least 15% of his fortune to public radio.

37. “Blink” – easyFun

Listening to easyFun is like rubbing crushed Sweet Tarts all over your face.

36. “Witness” – Benjamin Booker, Mavis Staples

We saw far fewer stories in the news of police shooting black people. Watching a fascist ascend to the presidency will distract away from those stories, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t happen. Benjamin Booker understands that even when we aren’t watching, he still might be privy to an encounter he didn’t want to see, or worse.

Others: “The Slow Drag Under,” “Right On You