Last year, music journalists everywhere seemed to agree that rock music had received a shot of adrenaline. “Rock Gets Loud Again, Finally” exclaimed Exclaim!, while The Atlantic declared it “The Year Punk Rock Broke Back,” in an article that celebrated the sweaty vitality of bands like Cloud Nothings, Japandroids, and Swearin’. Although each of these groups released sturdy records in 2012, New Jersey’s Titus Andronicus perhaps best channeled the visceral, life-affirming power of rock.
Local Business followed 2010’s Civil War-themed The Monitor and was criticized for lacking its predecessor’s grandiosity. In fairness, however, it’s difficult to go much bigger than an album that begins with Abraham Lincoln howling, “As a nation of free men, we will live forever, or die by suicide!” The themes of Local Business are admittedly more mundane. The dramatic catalyst of “Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape with the Flood of Detritus,” for instance, is a traffic jam. Yet, triumphant multi-guitar riffs and, in particular, front man Patrick Stickles’ delivery, invest such humdrum subject matter with life-or-death stakes.
This is not to suggest that Local Business is a bleak record. Titus Andronicus leavens the angst that often grates in indie rock with a vicious wit. For every cry that “Everything is inherently worthless/ And there’s nothing in the universe/ With any kind of objective purpose,” a comedic kicker is not far behind. Take, for example, a track with the dual choruses “COLD PISS!” and “HOT DEUCE!”
That song, “Still Life with Hot Deuce on Silver Platter,” contains a moment that pretty much crystallizes Local Business’ charm. In a thrilling, half-timey coda, Stickles rhymes “lesbian” and “bovine estrogen” with “mescaline” and “Mexicans.” It’s ridiculous and messy, but coming from blown speakers it sounds like a revelation. These are the ingredients of stirring rock music, in 2012 or any year.