Titus Andronicus: Local Business

Local Business has lots of fascinating things to say about control but sometimes it gets lost in its own unruly order.

Titus Andronicus

Local Business

US Release: 2012-10-23
Label: XL
UK Release: 2012-10-22
Artist Website
Label Website

Titus Andronicus is a band that is unabashedly New Jersey in all the best ways. They've got the contained-to-bursting fury of basement shows and the grandiose sound and lyrical aspirations of Springsteen. Their last album, The Monitor, was the band's punk version of The River, a huge outpouring of creativity, something both much larger in scope and somehow more refined than its predecessor, The Airing of Grievances. In two albums, we also learned that, under all the rock and roll muck of their songs, the band wasn't afraid to show off some theatrics. They are named after a particularly gristly Shakespeare play, after all, and The Monitor was a 65-minute concept record in which a break-up is transmogrified into (or conflated with) a narrative about the Civil War.

So, yeah, they don't mind tossing around big ideas, but they always come back to the hook, the thumping rock pulse, the clever line, the anthemic chorus. Titus Andronicus has a theatrical streak that works because it never drifts from the pure pleasures and volatile energy of rock music.

The band's new album, Local Business, tries to move away from the larger narratives of The Monitor towards something more contained. It's best parts retains the band's taut energy, but aside from lacking the interstitial speeches of its predecessor, the band hasn't really pared back much here. These 10 songs cover about 50 minutes, with two songs going over the eight-minute mark and half of them cracking five minutes. It's also a collection that continues themes from the other albums. There's plenty of isolation, of personal freedom versus machinations that contain that freedom, of existential crises. It doesn't repeat, necessarily, and actually argues for Titus Andronicus's records not as separate parts but more as connected chapters in the band's story.

If that overall story seems too big to think about now, that's because the parts themselves are pretty huge. Opener "Ecce Homo" starts with Patrick Stickles shouting "Okay, I think by now we've established everything is inherently worthless." That's a hell of a starting point for the record, a sort of rock-bottom that feels impossible to dig up and out of. But Stickles and company delve into the confusion of such a perception, where "he forgets if he felt oppressed or depressed or which one came first." It's not a new idea, necessarily, the put-upon, bored hero questioning if it all means anything, if there was a time where he could have said something, done something to change it. But if it feels vague, it's still sold with a convincing anger by Stickles and, more importantly, it connects to the songs that follow. We see that vicious cycle in the motorists annoyed at a fatal car crash in "Upon Viewing Oregon's Landscape with the Flood of Detritus." Stickles sings about people "grit[ting] their teeth, hating that which comes between them and their coffee" and we recognize it both because it's a sad truth and, perhaps, it's a feeling we recognize in others and ourselves.

The album seems to focus quite a bit on control. Sometimes, it's the lack of control we have on the outside world -- as in the traffic mentioned above -- and sometimes it's bodily control. The body gets mentioned a lot, and is the most local of businesses the record focuses on. "My Eating Disorder" is more about chemistry than psychology, about the cycle from "pharmacist to Marlboro Man back to pharmacist again." It's an obsessive desire for control, a look at the river of stuff we pump into our bodies to make them behave, and -- most importantly -- an affecting look at Stickles's own struggle with Selective Eating Disorder. "In a Small Body" focuses more on the effects to our physical selves that come with time, we "watch the acid eat away the enamel." "It's my body and me," Stickles sings, and that separation, that split between you and your physical being is a key distance on this record. It implies both control (you can lord over your body) and a lack of same (you can't be a unified part of it) simultaneously.

There are other ways control is lost here. "In a Big City" finds troubling anonymity in moving to the city. "Now I'm a drop in a deluge of hipsters," Stickles claims, and you can hear the disappointment in his voice. Even the past tense of closer "Tried to Quit Smoking" feels like a lost grasp on order, especially order associated with consumption. These moments offer fascinating ideas and necessary confusions. Local Business doesn't offer healing so much as it opens up huge gashes and asks us to root around in them. It also roots around in some new musical territory, like the country-tinged yarn "In a Big City" or the dusty blue-light ballad turned barn-stomper "Tried to Quit Smoking". In these moments we see how the band continues their punk fury but still pushes to find new permutations of it.

The trouble with Local Business, though, is that, for an album so focused on control, the songs themselves have a surprising lack of it. The best songs here -- "In a Big City" and "Upon Viewing Oregon's Landscape with the Flood of Detritus" are two of them -- get in and get out, make their mark and leave. Other songs lose tension by stretching out too far. "My Eating Disorder" has two long refrains, the first of which ("My eating disorder is inside of me") feels too cyclical and on-the-nose. These longer songs have great smaller songs within them, but never quite earn their long runtimes. If The Monitor felt purposeful in its size, Local Business feels unfortunately bloated in spots, so that its lean rock muscle -- and the production plays up razor-sharp guitars and big drums -- loses its shape when the band yells "here it goes again" or "spit it out" again and again. All this doesn't ruin the record, but it takes a tight focus and instead of expanding it in interesting ways, the album often pulls at it until it unravels. Local Business has lots of fascinating things to say about control but sometimes it gets lost in its own unruly order.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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