Titus Andronicus – “The Most Lamentable Tragedy”

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “Lonely Boy” “Dimed Out” “More Perfect Union”

One of the things that made Seinfeld so great was a general lack of continuity – you can flip on any episode on TBS at 3pm or am and jump in. Sure, there’s recurring jokes – the person getting washed behind the sheet at the hospital George’s mom is in is my favorite. But each episode is pretty standalone, even for a sitcom. So it’s weird that Titus Andronicus stands by their Seinfeld references, in a way. Their fourth album, “The Most Lamentable Tragedy,” is an album that links all three of their previous albums up. It continues the “No Future” trend from “Titus Andronicus” and “The Monitor,” but left off of “Local Business.” One of this album’s best songs, “More Perfect Union,” is a reference to “A More Perfect Union,” from “The Monitor.” And “I’m Going Insane (Finish Him)” is a lyrical cover of their own “Titus Andronicus vs. the Absurd Universe (3rd Round KO)” from “Local Business.” There’s even the Seinfeld reference, a “Hello, Newman” shout on “Lonely Boy.”

Look, I love Titus Andronicus. I’ve long called them “America’s best rock band.” A picture I took of them at the Brooklyn Bowl has been the background on my phone for a few years. I didn’t ‘stand by them’ when they released “Local Business” – it’s one of my very favorite albums, I listen to it in full nearly once a week. So when they announced a 29 song, 93+ minute rock opera, I went into cardiac arrest. And as I was staring at it after it came out, before I listened, I thought – “there’s few bands that could really pull this off, and I’m not sure +@ even can.” “The Most Lamentable Tragedy” isn’t their strongest album, but in terms of ambition and effort, it is indeed unmatched.

The album is separated into five acts, much like Foxygen’s “…And Star Power” last year. The opera follows Our Hero, as he meets his doppelganger and struggles with manic depression, a reflection of Patrick Stickles’ own struggles. Stickles has reflected before – “The Monitor” reflected his depression, where my favorite +@ song “My Eating Disorder” details his selective eating.

There’s a lot to take in on the album, at 29 songs and over an hour and a half long. Given that the band has always centered itself equally on music and lyrics, there’s rarely one more worthy of attention – and that comes through the most on songs that feel like they could’ve been cut. It runs too long, even as an art project, and the average-lengthed songs start to bleed together a bit. There’s also a surprising number of them – although two of the songs are over nine minutes, and thirteen are under two minutes, most of the other tracks are between 3:00 and 4:30, unexpected for a band comfortable in the 5:00-6:30 range. Some songs, like “Dimed Out” and “A Pair of Brown Eyes,” feel zipped-up and perfectly sliced because of it, but some songs feel underdeveloped in that range.

The album keeps things interesting by engulfing all of Patrick Stickles’ influences, rather than focusing on one. Early on, especially on “No Future Part IV: No Future Triumphant” and “Lonely Boy,” the band directly channels their inner Springsteen. As the album gets more indulging, the band expands influences, from hardcore (“Look Alive”) to the Pogues (“A Pair of Brown Eyes”) to the traditional (an unexpected “Auld Lang Syne”). There’s a lot going on here, and it gets switched up so consistently that it feels like where in the manic itself.

“The Most Lamentable Tragedy” is a flawed but strong album. Just when it starts to lag, it winds up again and hits you with another punk blast. And it’s needlessly but joyously self-indulgent, keeping all of the band’s linked narratives going. It’s punk, it’s indie, it’s gospel, it’s anything you’d imagine Titus Andronicus to be. It succeeds just because it has the sheer audacity to demand it so. “The Most Lamentable Tragedy” is a beast, and with another dense, lengthy concept album under their belt, it’s safe to say we have no idea where +@ are going next. Their next album might equate struggles with body identity to stories of ancient gods, or it might be a Bon Jovi covers album. It’s tough to say, and that’s what makes +@ America’s best rock band.

If you like this, try: self-immolation

-By Andrew McNally

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Foxygen – “…And Star Power”

Grade: B

Key Tracks: “How Can You Really” “Cosmic Vibrations” “Can’t Contextualize My Mind”

All day I’ve been trying to come up with outdated words to describe this album. Rad? Killer? Kickin’? Foxygen are a classic rock band for the digital age. They always have been. But their new double album, “…And Star Power,” is so classic rock inspired that it explores it as a concept. The album is split into five parts on four sides, all of which represent some faction of a standard classic rock album. And although at 82+ minutes, it’s way, way too long, it provides for an interesting listen as a 24 track album where each song gets crazier than the last.

Side One of this album is split into two parts – the first half of a classic rock album, with the radio hits, and the second half, where only the band’s real fans keep listening. What this means for Foxygen is a start to a lengthy album with a few midtempo, standard-ish songs. It’s a risky move, trusting your fans to keep listening even though the opener is shaky. But it does provide a few great songs – “How Can You Really” is the most Foxygen-y song ever produced, a song that sounds just like any classic rock standard, except for it’s indescribable sloppiness. It and “Cosmic Vibrations” have provided two singles for Foxygen, on an album that’s otherwise devoid. Part Two of the side is one suite – the four-part Star Power Suite. The four songs, including an opening overture, are all speedy garage-rock bruisers that are a lot of fun. Only one of them stretches over three minutes, so they don’t overstay their welcome.

Side Two is subtitled “The Paranoid Side,” and it’s easily the weakest side of the album. The loose concept of this section is songs that are more psychedelic and free than standard rock settings. “I Don’t Have Anything/The Gate” and “666” are interesting songs, but it’s the longest section from a track number standpoint, and it’s got some of the most forgettable songs. “Flowers” and “Cannibal Holocaust” might sound better on a shorter album, but on one that’s already overly bloated, they just take up time.

Side Three, or Scream: Journey Through Hell takes a sudden detour into songs classic rock bands wish they could’ve pulled off, but couldn’t have at the time. The section is kicked off by the nearly seven minute “Cold Winter/Freedom,” which never has a discernible rhythm but some haunting tempo changes. The section is marked by chaos – screaming, hyper rhythms and drastic volume increases. “Can’t Contextualize My Mind” sounds exactly a Stones song left on the floor because it broke an album’s flow. “Brooklyn Police Station” “Freedom II” and “Talk” are all equally intense, hitting chaotic levels even for Foxygen. The few lyrics the songs have are often unintelligible. It’s jarring and off-putting at first, but they’re tracks that demand a few listens, and the listener is drawn back to them almost immediately.

The final side is just two tracks, sweeter outros which don’t exactly fit, given the predecessors, but they’re decent enough as is. “Everyone Needs Love” is a sweet, lengthy song, and “Hang” is a calmed and fitting finale. Their placement doesn’t really work but there isn’t much to comment on them.

“…And Star Power” sounds like their previous album, “We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic” on an immediate level – it’s classic rock inspired lunacy, with brilliant flow, quick switches between melodies and chaos, and a permanent garage feel. But it’s a very different album. (Full disclosure: “21st Century” is one of my two or three favorite albums, so take any analysis with a few grains of salt). “21st Century” is only 36 minutes long, nearly a third the length and fifteen songs fewer. And where “21st Century” prouds itself on dense, bizarre and witty lyrics (“On Blue Mountain/God will save you/Put the pieces back together” shows up in at five of the nine songs), this album centers itself on more conventional lyrics, instead aimed at the flow and the grandiose concept. Much of “…And Star Power”‘s rough transitions, competing ideas, and sheer length come from the band’s inner-fighting, well-documented since their break early last year. This album actually serves to clarify that things aren’t as bad as they seemed to us, but the output still goes to show some issues.

Foxygen have always been a high-concept band. Don’t forget, their first album was a 30 track space opera. So the concept, on the whole, works well on “…And Star Power.” They’re a classic rock band incarnate, evident in Johnathan Rado’s utter devotion to singing like Lou Reed and Mick Jagger. The album’s only fault is that it’s just long – so, so long. Twenty minutes could probably be chopped off and it would have the same effect. On top of multiple songs in each section, there’s interludes that just take up more time. But still, Foxygen are cool as hell. There’s a reason they were able to get members of the Flaming Lips, White Fence and Of Montreal to guest on the album. “…And Star Power” is the album that MGMT wishes they could make – expansive, ambitious not to but past a fault, flowing but inconsistent and downright bonkers. If you have 82 minutes to spare, and you’re into indie-garage bands taking pages from psychedelic classic rock, then “…And Star Power” is by all means worth a listen.

If you like this, try: This one’s easy. Jordaan Mason & Horse Museum’s 2009 album “divorce lawyers i shaved my head,” a concept album about a failed marriage between two people confused about their sexual identities. Each song escalates in it’s disturbing and bizarre qualities, but does so at a slow pace so the listener doesn’t pick up on it at first. It’s a confounding work. Mason does his best Jeff Mangum impression throughout.

-By Andrew McNally