Ten years ago tomorrow, a band from Glen Rock, NJ dropped their debut album, The Airing of Grievances. It was initially released by Troubleman Unlimited in New Jersey, and then brought to Europe by Merok Records (and later reissued by XL Recordings in 2009). Before this, the band had little to their name aside from a couple of 7″ records and a handful of often inaudible live videos on YouTube.
The record begins somewhat unexpectedly with “Fear and Loathing in Mahwah, NJ;” a fed-up 20-something year old playing a rusty-sounding guitar with his distinctly whiny voice. Suddenly, the whole band flips you off – screaming out a big ol’ “fuck you” – before plowing over everything in sight. Herein you’re met with monumental drumming, keyboard and vocal harmonies, and front man Patrick Stickles shoving in his disgusted thoughts wherever possible. Before long the finale of the opening track comes to the forefront – Stickles, playing a sort of Irish jig of a guitar solo, which turns into an all out assault, with Ian Dykstra’s galloping kick drum, anthemic keyboards and a brass section to boot, complete with the rumble of Ian Graetzer’s bass underneath it all. It’s loud, in-your-face, and downright rapturous.
You quickly gain the sense of that lo-fi buzz that’s covering this entire record (an element to their sound the band would eventually lose on future projects). Still to this day it seems like this wasn’t really done on purpose or by accident. It’s just a result of whatever the band was using when recording, but it adds such an element of ferocity.
As you continue throughout Grievances, you learn about a group of Jersey dudes who were all equally influenced by each other and their hometown, as much as they were other bands, including Ted Leo, Spider Bags, Neutral Milk Hotel, Pulp, Galaxie 500, the Library of Congress, and so on. Sometimes these influences are obvious, other times not as much. They also seemingly had an interchangeable amount of friends who could fill in at any moment, gaining the prowess of guys like Andrew Cedermark on down to Dan Tews (once referred to as “VuBu” in “No Future Part 2”) or Liam “the Younger” Betson (who is now a current member of the 2018 line up).
Ten years later, Grievances has stood the test of time, bringing innocent joy, and at the same time, a therapeutic release of pent-up anger and aggression from the burdens of everyday life – citing all of its fist-in-air chanting and a setup of bold instrumentation that refuses to take no for an answer. From the witty, god-fearing story of “My Time Outside the Womb,” or the Springsteen-like intro to “Joset of Nazareth’s Blues,” or the complex guitar soloing in “Upon Viewing Bruegel’s Landscape With The Fall Of Icarus,” this record still has plenty to offer years later. “Arms Against Atrophy” is a literal story about taking acid and breaking an arm. The eponymous “Titus Andronicus” is the penultimate anthem of disgruntled rage, complete with its legendary “fuck everything/ fuck me” uttered calmly in the background by Stickles himself.
Following this, the most potent section of the album begins with the two part suite “No Future,” beginning slowly and lackadaisically. Seemingly created for the live stage, it’s a thrilling example of the debauchery this band was capable of in its fledgling days. Stickles complains about being sick and lonely with just a bottle, claiming that “the only treatment that they offer is to hang me from a tree.” They tear it up from here on out, leading you toward the destructive second half “The Days After No Future” as if the world was beginning anew. The second half hits so many marks: from the explosive drumming pattern down to the effortless and enthralling guitar soloing. They take us through a hazy atmospheric arrangement, hereby showing off some of their shoegaze tendencies, and laying us to waste in the process. They set the stage for destruction one last time with “Albert Camus.” It’s another with a gaze-y finale, which is a reimagined cover song originally penned by The Library of Congress.
Somehow, this was all remarkably relatable when you’re only a couple of months out of high school and wondering what the hell life has coming down the pipeline for you. Some days it still doesn’t feel like I’m sure, but if there was only one thing that helped me forget that looming thought, it was thanks to The Airing of Grievances. Now get to listening.
Free Energy Split 7″
Feats of Strength
The Innocents Abroad (our very first post here on SD)
Titus Andronicus Live in Philadelphia (04/15/10)
Titus Andronicus Live in Fords, NJ (03/08/10)
Top 30 7″ Records of 2010
Top 25 Albums of 2010
Find a slew of old, live Titus videos here, by yours truly