New Jersey’s Titus Andronicus have a raucous and individual take on punk rock that embraces the fast and loud parts of the formula but leaves room for indie rock, garage rock, classic rock, and folk influences as the band careen through it all with a muscular passion and a surprising variety of literary references. Led by guitarist and singer Patrick Stickles, Titus Andronicus — named after a play by William Shakespeare — embraced a big, bold, and reckless sound on their debut album, 2008’s The Airing of Grievances, and while they sounded tighter and more ambitious on the Civil War-themed concept album The Monitor released in 2010, their “everything but the kitchen sink” approach to punk had only grown bigger and wilder, if better controlled. 2015’s The Most Lamentable Tragedy was an epic-scale rock opera that added pop accents and deep dynamics to the group’s toolkit, as well as putting their Bruce Springsteen influences front and center for several songs, while they focused on a folk-informed sound for 2018’s A Productive Cough.
Patrick Stickles formed Titus Andronicus in 2005, and has been the sole constant member throughout their history. Founded in Glen Rock, New Jersey, the initial core of the band featured Stickles on lead vocals, guitar, keyboards, and percussion, Liam Betson and Dan Tews on guitars, Ian Graetzer on bass, and Ian Dykstra on drums. This edition of the band recorded their debut album, The Airing of Grievances (named for one of the traditions of the fictive holiday of Festivus from the sitcom Seinfeld), was recorded during the second half of 2007 and issued by the punk label Troubleman Unlimited in April 2008. Positive reviews earned the group a buzz in the indie music scene, and they signed a deal with XL Recordings, which gave the LP a reissue in January 2009. For their second album, 2010’s The Monitor, the band officially slimmed down to a quartet with the departure of guitarist Tews, while Harm replaced Dykstra behind the drums. The Monitor was a thematically complex concept album inspired by events from the Civil War, and the wealth of guest artists on the sessions included members of the Hold Steady, the Vivian Girls, Ponytail, the Felice Brothers, and Wye Oak, among others. The online music magazine Pitchfork named it one of the Ten Best Albums of 2010, and in 2014 they declared it one of the 100 Best Albums of the Decade So Far.
After the big themes of The Monitor, Titus Andronicus narrowed their focus for 2012’s Local Business, which featured a more personal lyrical perspective and simpler production and arrangements. The album also introduced another new edition of Titus Andronicus, with Stickles, Betson, and Harm joined by bassist Julian Veronesi and guitarist Adam Reich. The group upped their creative ante with 2015’s The Most Lamentable Tragedy, a five-act, 93-minute rock opera about a man struggling with manic depression who encounters his double. (It was also their first album for the respected indie label Merge Records.) Guitarist Liam Betson left Titus Andronicus before The Most Lamentable Tragedy was recorded, and guitarist Jonah Maurer made his debut with them on the album. Stickles took a dramatic creative detour for 2018’s A Productive Cough, easing off their rock influences in favor of a rollicking barroom, folk-inspired sound, and the group members were replaced with a crew of 21 musicians. (The album also found Stickles rewriting a Bob Dylan classic on the track “I’m Like a Rolling Stone.”) Titus Andronicus returned to a tough rock & roll approach for 2019’s An Obelisk, which was produced by Bob Mould. Along with Stickles, the band included the returning Liam Betson on guitar, R.J. Gordon on bass, and Chris Wilson on drums. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi