AJJ – “The Bible 2”

(Photo Credit: AJJ)Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “Cody’s Theme,” “Terrifyer”

Sometimes, punk bands grow up. There’s nothing that can stop a natural aging process. The Clash embraced reggae, the Offspring started writing about suicide, Green Day wrote a Broadway musical. What often gets mistaken as “selling out” is usually just a band’s members realizing their image is going to fade, and jumping the gun to adopt a new one. AJJ had hinted at this transition on their last album, the excellent “Christmas Island.” It opens with “Temple Grandin” and “Children of God,” two songs that are prime AJJ – fast, acoustic guitar mixed with lyrics that more-than-border on violence and gross imagery. But the album also included songs like “Linda Ronstadt,” which touches on the same loneliness that the band usually touches on, but with less violence, less disguises, and more palpable humanity. Sean Bonnette is better than anyone else in music at masking his own insecurities, faults and dark desires through characters, satire and overblown odes. But that started to chip on “Christmas Island,” and it gets stripped away on “The Bible 2.”

The band, sporting a new drummer, have awarded themselves a re-baptism: they abbreviated their name. AJJ, of course, used to stand for Andrew Jackson Jihad. But now it’s just “AJJ.” Partially because of maturity – I mean, their name was kinda racist for a bunch of Arizona white guys – partially because of an increase in actual Jihadist violence, and partially just because it’s what everyone called them anyways.  Eleven years after their first album, they’ve been re-christened, and it’s allowed them to expand, or decompress their sound and explore what they’ve previously ignored – their stance as an actual, successful band.

AJJ’s most progressive songs on “The Bible 2” aren’t necessarily the most interesting, because they’re slower and more adult than we’re used to. But this isn’t a bad thing; a lack of humanity, although AJJ’s strongest weapon, is also their biggest downfall. “American Garbage” is downright an indie song – a different cry than “American Tune” from only a few years ago. Slap a different band’s name on the song and it might pick up some airplay on college radio. Same goes for “Small Red Boy,” and “No More Shame, No More Fear, No More Dread,” which seems like a sequel to 2007’s “No More Tears,” but really isn’t. In fact, those two songs work together for a more honest, painfully aware song than any of the early guitar blasts.

All of this isn’t to say that old AJJ doesn’t pop in, too. Songs like “White Worms” and “Junkie Church” have lyrics that could’ve easily passed on any earlier album. “The waiting room was pissing in my ear / So we went and bought ourselves a can of beer / Steel Reserve,” Bonnette sings on the latter. The former: “My teeth are brown / My lips are blue / The grass is green / My tongue is too.” The horrors on this album don’t come as frequently. After years of songs like “Bad Bad Things,” “Back Pack” and “Dad Song,” there’s little that AJJ can sing in a song that’s still shocking. So, they reserve those moments. Opener “Cody’s Theme” has such lyrics, with the chorus: “I had to talk to the teacher / She had to talk to my mom / We had a real long talk / I had to talk to the teacher / She had to talk to my mom / They made the visions stop.” While this is nothing compared to the lyrics of, say, “Darling, I Love You,” they do announce that even if AJJ is growing, changing – they’re still the same at heart.

The secret weapon of “The Bible 2” is actually the songs that manage to place themselves in between ‘old’ and ‘new’ AJJ. “Cody’s Theme,” “Golden Eagle” and lead single “Goodbye, Oh Goodbye” all sound strangely reminiscent of Neutral Milk Hotel, with wickedly distorted guitar playing alongside acoustic. These songs almost act as the torchbearers, saying that yes, AJJ is transitioning, and no, they’re not changing completely. They could pass as indie songs, in a way, but it might not be a comfortable passing. “Terrifyer” might be one of the most interesting songs because its use of melody sounds pretty satisfying, while still giving in to the sound of “Sense & Sensibility,” in the best way possible.

Although I personally think the band hit a highest high with 2011’s “Knife Man,” this might be their most cohesive album. Musically, it hits more different territories than ever before. The album’s first half starts with guitar, dips gradually down into piano before revving back up for “Goodbye, Oh Goodbye.” And although the lyrics do once again embrace religion, mental illness, and deathly imagery, there’s broader topics at play. By shedding away the masks the band has previously used to hide their desires and delusions within the confinements of people worse then them, they’ve humanized themselves, fully, and even the first-person songs feel more real because of it. This isn’t a criticism of their older music – far from it, what they’ve done lyrically with the use of satire, violence, and irony is amazing – but simply an awareness that it was starting to get old. AJJ ran that line as long as they could, and, now that it’s over, they’re switching gears. While this is a transition album of sorts, there’s a lot to like, and it proves that AJJ might be able to bridge a gap that a lot of punk bands have previously failed – stay yourselves, stay interesting, yet change.

-By Andrew McNally

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White Lung – “Paradise”

Grade: A-

Key Tracks: “Below,” “Kiss Me When I Bleed”

There’s two meanings to the word “raw.” On White Lung’s previous album, “Deep Fantasy,” they explored a hardcore sound that roared ferociously, even for hardcore punk, ripping through 10 songs in 22 minutes. Their new album smoothes things out a bit (although not much, it’s 10 songs through 28 minutes). There is a lot more emotional rawness on the album – the band is focused less on speed and volume and more on wearing themselves thin on tape.

White Lung are following in a trend set by previous releases by Perfect Pussy and Savages, in which very loud and angry bands are not shying away from their sudden success and are instead using their new standpoints in their music. Tellingly, Meredith Graves and Jhenny Beth opened their arms to love. Mish Barber-Way? Serial killers. And trailers. But also love. In between albums, she wed, and a post-wedding blissfulness permeates the album. At times, unfortunately, the band sounds like they’re pushing the volume only because they’re White Lung and that’s what is expected. Most of the time, however, this theme of emotional and physical rawness comes across effectively.

“Deep Fantasy” is one of my favorite albums – in the past two years I’ve spun it more than almost any other album. But if there’s any criticism I could level at it, it’s that it feels a little too polished at times. Surprising, given Kenneth William’s utterly shrieking guitar. The band operates at 11 and sound like they’re about to go off the rails at all moments. But still, they could use for a little more emotion in their music. It comes through here. On “Demented,” William trades in his wailing guitar for a straight-forward, pounding and unexpected one-chord riff. Anne-Marie Vassiliou sounds immediately more forceful on the drums, on opener “Dead Weight,” and one multiple songs throughout. And Mish Barber-Way strains herself on nearly every song. I found their first single, “Hungry,” underwhelming, but man her voice propels the song. She brings carnage to “Kiss Me When I Bleed” and adds tension to ballad “Below.” She dominates the album in the way that she dominated “In Your Home,” the closer to “Deep Fantasy.”

Lyrically, too, this album has a certain rawness to it that doesn’t jibe with the rawness of “Deep Fantasy.” One of that album’s best songs, “I Believe You,” was an extremely direct message to rape culture. That directness exists here, too, but instead of a punishing rawness, it’s an emotional one. Barber-Way investigates her fears and wonders about marrying a Southern man: “I will give birth in a trailer / Huffing the gas in the air / Baby is born in molasses / Like I would even care” she sings on “Kiss Me When I Bleed.” On “I Beg You,” “This is the death of me / I need a fantasy.” Between the rapid drumming, relentless guitar exploration and strained vocals, White Lung push themselves to a maximum that they’ve never explored. It doesn’t always pay off, some tracks like “Narcoleptic” and “Hungry” suffer from a tempo that’s too fast to be slow and too slow to be White Lung. Exploring their space might not always be their thing. Then again, they strip everything away and let sheer tension run “Below.” This is a personal and bleeding album, one that addresses the successes and failures of being a touring band, sudden notoriety, and life in general. It isn’t necessarily hardcore punk, but then again, White Lung never truly adapted the title. They never adapted any title. And it’s not like this album isn’t gonna rip your face off most of the time anyways. It’s raw, it’s passionate, it’s emotional, it’s loud, it’s destructive and most importantly, it’s White Lung.

-By Andrew McNally

Future of the Left – “The Peace and Truce of Future of the Left” & “To Failed States and Forest Clearings”

The Peace and Truce of Future of the Left:

Grade: B

Key Tracks: “The Limits of Battleships” “No Son Will Ease Their Solitude”

With all of the line-up changes that Welsh post-punk band Future of the Left has gone through, it’s pretty remarkable that 2/3rds of their line-up is original members. That said, they are currently down to a three-piece. Andy “Falco” Falkous will run this band until it dies, and he’s currently joined by his wife, Julia Ruzicka, and third wheel drummer Jack Egglestone, who has been around since the beginning (and also played in Falco’s previous band, mclusky). Their fifth album takes a more math-rock based stance, which can be frustrating at times.

The album’s first few songs all have very complex riffs, designed not to be catchy. They’re all heavy, of course, it wouldn’t be Future of the Left without unnecessary volume. The chugging midtempo rhythm and shrieking guitar of opener “If AT&T Drank Tea What Would BP Do” shouldn’t come as a surprise, their last album opened with a similar song. But it isn’t until “Grass Parade,” the fifth track, that we get a song with a real graspable rhythm. The first four tracks all have clunky, demanding rhythms, and while they’re all good in their own right, it does not request another listen very easily.

Once the album ‘picks up,’ which I’m using loosely, it falls more into a Future of the Left groove. “The Limits of Battleships” and “Eating For None” both have great rhythms, snuck in amidst the volume and anger. “Back When I Was Brilliant” is an effective midtempo, midalbum bruiser, and “White Privilege Blues” has an excellent breakdown in it. “Reference Point Zero” has an intense climax that fits in amidst the band’s best energy songs. And closer “No Son Will Ease Their Solitude” is a tense and building finale that’s delectably unpredictable, without going too off the rails.

Falco’s lyrics are frustratingly buried in the music at times. As a singer, he has been praised and criticized for his on-the-nose subject matter, often tackling a specific target or industry. Or, sometimes, he’ll shield himself behind satire (my personal favorite Falco song is “I Am the Least Of Your Problems”). Sometimes, the lyrics come through here. One of the better tracks, “Miner’s Gruel,” is a subtlety-lacking look at teenage privilege. Album cover included, there’s a few tracks that reference the military. As always, there’s references that seem to make sense only to him, like to curry houses on “Back When I Was Brilliant,” to asking “How many farmer’s markets does it take to change a light bulb?” on “Proper Music” and bemusing, “My bank account is not a hole, it has no purpose and a hole has one” on “No Son.” Perhaps the best lyrical moment, though, is on “Eating For None,” when he proclaims, “I am most of the time perfectly happy.” With all due respect, I’ll believe it when I see it.

To Failed States and Forest Clearings:

Grade: A

Key Track: “The Cock That Walked”

The band crowdfunded “Peace and Truce,” and gave the record to paying fans early, promising another EP soon to follow. To nonpaying customers, they came at the same time. If the full-length was designed as a progression into less punk and post-punk and more complex music, then this is the refresher. The six tracks on this EP could have fit on any previous Future of the Left album, and should have. There isn’t a weak track on this release.

Opening song “The Cock That Walked” is about, apparently, creeps who get an erection on public transit. It has a pounding, fast-but-not-too-fast rhythm ripped out of their own playbook. Four of the six songs maintain this, a more standard Future of the Left sound. Keyboards mixed in with booming bass and crunching guitar lines. “Problem Thinker” is the first of the outliers, a much more slowburning song that really takes it’s time to build to a big conclusion. Also, “There’s Always Paul” is a bit lighter, centered more around light percussion and handclaps than anything else.

Overall, this EP has a kind of goofy feeling to it. Look no further than “Animals Beginning with a B,” where Falco sings “I can’t see a baboon from where I’m currently sitting but that doesn’t mean they don’t have them at the city petting zoo.” Look, I’m not sure what angle he’s taking here. But this EP is different than the album because Falco’s lyrics are both clearer and weirder. On “Fireproof (Boy vs. Bison)” he sings, “Someone at the party said to get fucked and he had not heard of that.” The lyrics throughout this EP are the kind that would truly divide Falco’s fans and critics. It acts as a companion piece to the full-length, and it should absolutely be for any longtime fans such as myself.

Read my review of Future of the Left’s “How To Stop Your Brain in an Accident.

-By Andrew McNally

Ty Segall – “Emotional Mugger”

Grade: B

Key Tracks: “Californian Hills,” “Emotional Mugger / Leopard Priestess”

With a non-stop flurry of activity, Ty Segall has done his best job at distancing himself from any one sound. But ironically, as “Emotional Mugger” proves, there is a distinct ‘Ty Segall sound’. It’s one part T. Rex, one part Count Five, one part Deep Purple, and like a half a part of Jack White. “Mugger” jumps around a bunch, but overall, it’s a trippy, fuzzy and loud trip down all of Segall’s interests.

“Mugger” is his eighth solo album in his seven year career, which is impressive in its own right. But this time period also includes, naturally, two albums with Fuzz, an album with the equally busy Mikal Cronin, an album with Ty Segall Band (one of my personal favorite albums), an album with White Fence, a T. Rex covers album, and long-gone singles with bands like Epsilons, Party Fowl, Sic Alps, the Perverts and the Traditional Fools. So the manic energy of his music makes sense – he has to be this manic to be this productive.

Segall’s last proper solo album (T. Rex cover album notwithstanding) was a surprisingly reflective, acoustic work that highlighted his more classic-rock influence. It was an inevitable album, there was only so many ways Segall could spin garage rock into something unique, and he was going to have to slow down at some point. But that point, much like the time in between his albums, wasn’t very long. “Mugger” doesn’t match the volume of the Fuzz albums, or the mania of the Ty Segall Band release, “Slaughterhouse,” but it blends fuzzy guitar, garage rock energy and smooth vocals as well as anything else he’s done.

Musically, there isn’t much to say about a Ty Segall album that’s unexpected – it’s loud and fuzzy, his guitar is center-stage, and every song is an adventure in some way. The great opening track, “Squealer,” is a very staccato song, and it transitions nicely into “Californian Hills,” a song that shows restraint but gives way to two-bar bits of mania every so often. He takes two guitar solos, on “Diversion,” and “Mandy Cream,” both effective. And his almost-signature guitar shrieking permeates the longest track, “Emotional Mugger / Leopard Priestess.”

A word being used in other reviews of this album is “addictive,” but without context, it’s a word that can be applied to his whole discography. He makes music that’s very easy to get into, even if it’s immensely heavy. It’s always almost catchy. Check “Preacher,” from Fuzz. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but yet everyone could get into it. Also, his music always has high replay value. The addiction on this album is an incredibly innocent one. This album is, at least sometimes, about childhood. A child’s voice shows up at the end of “Candy Sam,” one of the two songs that references candy. The other one is, uh, “Baby Big Man (I Want a Mommy).” There’s a, uh, baby on the cover, too. The album seems to have an innocence to it that Segall sometimes shies away from on other records. He’s a man that likes to have fun in the studio, and comparisons to the equally boy-ish Thurston Moore are not unjustified. Here, he embraces it, with childlike innocence and childlike innocence. It’s just that kids probably wouldn’t enjoy his shrieking guitar and destroyed pedalboards.

“Emotional Mugger” isn’t one of the best Segall albums, but it’s got some great tracks. And even when Segall isn’t at his most effective, he’s usually still entertaining. This is a more than passable set of loud jams for people who like fun, fuzzy rock tracks. It is diverse and energetic, and hits basically every mark in the Segall book. Now, to just wait and see what he does next.

If you like this, try: Peach Kelli Pop! I never got a review of her third album out but she makes an incomprehensible mix of garage-rock, hardcore punk and the poppiest, girly-girl imagery. She comes from the same garage Segall did.

An Intimate Night With the Greatest Punk Band That Ever Was

(Photo by me)

Whomever said punk is a young man’s game is sorely mistaken. Last night, I got to see Television live, and even in 2015 they absolutely crushed it. I’ve been doing some thinking lately, nothing more than shower musings, about who I think is the best band in each genre of music, the one that defines it the most. I haven’t come to many conclusions, but one that I did come to was that Television was the best punk band. Sorry, Clash. The band’s attitude and style is what did it, but they convinced me as much in 2015 as they would have in 1976.

Punk, as I have come to understand in my years transitioning from Rancid to Patti Smith, is more a spirit than a genre. It’s not necessarily about anarchy and destruction, though a part of it. It’s about doing what’s unexpected, unwanted; breaking the status quo. Iggy & the Stooges did this in Detroit, so did the MC5. They rallied against the sex, drugs and blues-rock and roll of the time in the same way Black Sabbath did. They upped the volume and came out angrier. The Ramones changed the game again by setting a template – power chords, 2:30 songs with apathetic or political lyrics. This template is still in place today – everyone from NoFX to the Dropkick Murphys to FIDLAR follow this format in some way. But that’s the problem – it’s a format. Punk, itself, has an incredibly tired and ironic template to it.

Television was one of a few CBGB’s bands in the late 70’s that seemed to foresee this template problem. Blondie and the Talking Heads added pop elements, and took off a whole new genre. Patti Smith was setting her spoken word poems to music. Television looked less at the music and more at the template – short songs, fast, loud music, and did away with all of it. Their classic album “Marquee Moon” is marked with slow-burners, tracks over (or well over) five minutes, and long, technically proficient guitar solos on every song. A virgin ear might mistake them for a classic rock band living in the wrong part of the city. Their songs are restrained, but the band has an energy to them – noticeable on the very first chord of “See No Evil” – that says they can run with the big dogs, they’re just choosing not to.

Tom Verlaine’s lyrics, making allusions to poetry and art (the Venus de Milo, for instance), didn’t stand on the same platform as, say, “I Wanna Be Sedated.” Maybe Television was in the right place at the right time. Or maybe, when we look back at them today, we still consider them a punk band because their music demands so. Technically remarkable lead and rhythm guitars interlock across albums, with Verlaine’s and Richard Lloyd’s tension almost palpable. And with the general lack of guitar distortion, and a clean, jazzy sound, it was the purest of music. It was what the other bands weren’t doing. It was punk.

I truly had no worries about Television ruining this legacy for me. I knew that if they couldn’t sound great live, they wouldn’t tour. And they delivered, from a performance standpoint – next to nothing was changed in the songs. At first I was disappointed in the lost opportunity for longer solos, but then I remembered that their albums aren’t punk statements, they’re works of art, and fine art should not be tampered with. And as such, their setlist consisted of every song off “Marquee Moon,” out of order. Verlaine played piano sections on his guitar, muting his strings to sound like piano keys. And on a number of songs, he self-indulged and plucked and warped the strings to sound like a one-man string section. I couldn’t wrap my head around it and I still can’t.

The crowd was as diverse as expected – fathers and sons, lost young scuds like me, and older burn-outs. A man in front of me who could have passed for Hilly Kristal wore a Patti Smith Group sweatshirt and jammed to every song like it was his 200th time seeing the band, gleefully ignorant of the 35+ years behind him. To the right of me was a pretentious 30-something who played air guitar the whole night, despite having a drink in one hand and his other arm over his girlfriend’s shoulder.

But aside from the performance, Television delivered in the punk spirit as well. Permanent Lloyd stand-in Jimmy Rip came out in a bowl hat and beard that looked like a high-dollar Tom Waits Halloween costume. Verlaine, in an unzipped hoodie that may have been a size too big (he hasn’t gained a pound since they shot the “Moon” cover). The setlist consisted of “Marquee Moon,” but the encore was pure unpredictability – “Little Johnny Jewel,” a cover of Count Five’s “Psychotic Reaction” (always a staple of their live show), and an unreleased track called “I’m Gonna Find You.” Their second two albums “Adventure” and “Television” were left untouched. The show itself had an aura of unpredictability – opener Dennis Driscoll performed with an improvised saxophone, courtesy of Morphine’s Dana Colley, and his set ran long. Soon into Television’s set, someone behind me yelled to turn the bass up, to which Verlaine pointed to Fred Smith and said aloud, “Move closer to him.” Verlaine was louder when he was talking to the audience than when he was singing into the mic, the vocals lost in the music. And in the encore, when they were transitioning between “Reaction” and “Find You,” a game being played by an excruciatingly bored security guard on his phone was audible. For a show with 65+ year old men on stage, in a small but classy venue and a randomly assorted audience, a punk spirit still came through. The Ramones may have passed, the Sex Pistols riddled by death, the Clash riddled by maturity. But for one night, the spirit of 1976 came through, if only briefly. Television, keep doing your thing.

-By Andrew McNally (photo credit is mine)

FIDLAR – “Too”

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “40oz. on Repeat” “Overdose”

With track titles like “Punks,” “Overdose,” and “Bad Habits,” it might seem like “Too” is more of the same from FIDLAR. Their first album, mind you, had “Blackout Stout,” “Wake Bake Skate” and “Cocaine.” It might feel like there’s a gambit in song titles that FIDLAR is quickly running through. But, their sophomore album is an album that some people, myself included, didn’t anticipate coming so soon – the conflicting, adult album. Most punk bands grow up sometime – Rancid’s “Life Won’t Wait,” Dads’ “I’ll Be the Tornado.” FIDLAR’s maturity is a very reluctant one – some tracks on “Too” feel like holdovers from still-recent partying years. But as the guys grow up, they’re begrudgingly accepting a more sober life.

One of the best qualities of FIDLAR’s debut album, a personal favorite of mine, was an underlying, barely visible sense of angst. It only came out in certain songs, when the guys were sober enough to see that there were far too many problems in the world. Through the more youthful and the more adult songs on “Too,” the unifying sense is still the slight angst. This time, it’s on a more personal level, as “Too” is heavy on self-reflection. “I don’t know why it’s so difficult for me to talk to someone I don’t know,” is sung on “40oz. on Repeat.” “One week sober / and I’m still hungover,” from closer “Bad Habits.” “FIDLAR” was a humorously self-deprecating album, but “Too” ditches the humor. Take the lyrics from “Bad Habits,” set them in an entirely different musical context, and they could fit nicely on an Alice in Chains album.

But they’re still at a crossroads, because there’s still party tracks. “Sober,” despite the title, is almost inarguably the strangest song in the band’s catalog, with the opening third of the song done almost in spoken word (think the beginning of “The Sweater Song”* but with the vocal melody of “Baby Got Back”). And the album’s penultimate track, “Bad Medicine,” is a >3 minute song that feels like one last punk blast, for old time’s sake, the inverse of Renton taking one last injection in Trainspotting.

As with their debut album, the band has an innate and unexpected ability to eschew any one sub-genre of music. The downside is that it leaves FIDLAR without a distinct sound, something important in punk. But the upside is that each song is going to sound distinct. “Punks,” originally (or perhaps erroneously) titled “The Punks Are Finally Taking Acid,” is a heavy song, centered on a guitar riff akin to a quickened “She’s So Heavy,” with pained, screamed vocals. But follow-up “West Coast” is the kind of bouncy sing-along you more expect from the band. It goes back and forth, often reflective of the lyrics, and it adds a cohesiveness to the album. The lyrics are well-rounded, so the music should be too.

“Too” does ask one question that it does not answer – who should FIDLAR’s audience be, now? Their first album was able to answer that question very, very easily – partying punks and skaters. It’s practically a Ten Commandments for SoCal late teens who are gradually becoming less aware of Mat Hoffman. But their second album was made more for themselves, and that’s a dangerous line to cross. Just because we’re being let on on FIDLAR’s internal struggles doesn’t necessarily mean it’s something we want to see. I’m genuinely not sure who the intended audience is for this record, as the partyers generally aren’t going to warm up to the sobering songs as much. There’s a mixed audience for the album, and it’s going to be divisive among fans. Still, there’s enough going on that it stands as a solid, and different sophomore release. I’m just worried about what the band is going to have to go through for the next album.

* – I saw FIDLAR a couple months ago in Boston and they covered “the Sweater Song,” replacing most of the verses with the word “meow” repeated over and over again. Inspiration? Probably.

If you like this, try: Perfect Pussy’s “Say Yes to Love,” another album where a punk band suddenly tightened up, but not without a total maturity.

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