TalkAboutTMLT

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I can control something inside of me
I can control something inside of me
I can control something inside of me
I can control something inside of me

I’ve always had something inside of me
And it’s always been kind of a mystery
Like a child that screams for his wildest dream
It’s the font of all madness and misery
But it’s the thing that you like when yr kissing me
And it’s the thing that you miss when yr missing me
It’s the mist that exists when I’m glistening
I got the only thing that’s ever made history
Inside of me

One friend said that she doesn’t like that Titus Andronicus is “glorifying mental illness” and part of me thinks that’s bullshit, the same way that calling a heavier girl taking a selfie “glorifying obesity” is bullshit, but the peaks of “The Most Lamentable” tragedy feel so intensely relatable to me and my own life trying to figure out how to live with/properly wield my own Bad Brain that I sometimes definitely think, “Yes, thank God someone finally did it this well.”  The bolded line in particular seems to echo The Hunter Brain Hypothesis, which is probably my favorite theory on the origins of ADHD (sure beats, “quit being an undisciplined fuckup!”).  

I mean, based on what he’s said in the press leading up to this thing, Patrick is more likely directly addressing Bipolar Disorder, but oh my god there is some level on which I feel like I’ve been tasked with carrying some kind of mutant fire that might, if not contribute to our collective betterment, at least bring some kind of comfort or greater understanding to others with similar struggles.  I’ve felt it arcing and pushing me, as much as a writer and musician as as an inventor and educator (at least in the past year or so).  I also feel like it’s going to be the thing that burns me out along with all my bridges and finds me beyond any kind of recoverability or redemption if I don’t somehow get better at riding/living with it.  Some of this is amplified by, I’m sure, That Feel Where You Are A Person With A Worldview Somewhere In The Neighborhood Of Existentialism Living Under Capitalism.

Anyhow, the really vital thing for me about “The Most Lamentable Tragedy” is probably best set up by recounting a moment in Patrick’s WTF interview where he says that the drugs he was given to manage his Bipolar Disorder “destroyed the poet in me” which is one of the most devastating admissions I’ve ever heard an artist make and, as someone who has overmedicated all sorts of ways (often unto the negation of my own creative abilities; this is why I can’t drink anymore) I felt, in some way, legitimately worried that this was the end of the line for one of, if not my #1, favorite bands of my young adult life.  

When I finally grabbed the leak of TMLT and put it on, I felt such an incredible sense of relief, affirmation and healing.  Oh my God, his voice sounds like he’s tried to scream his way out of Hell and it feels really continuous with the spirit johndarnielle (from Mountain Goats) talks about in his Black Sabbath 33 1/3 book.  This dark, aggressive art soothes/redeems/creates a logically consistent space in which meaning can be (maybe fleetingly) assembled.  I’ve had a terrible, taxing, scarring past year or so, lots of the kind of thing I’m not sure you get over so much as you try to assimilate it into your outlook, if that makes any sense.  

In this context, TMLT is not an album so much as a Life Event.  It feels like I connect to it with that intensity where it was either this, Jesus, or Oxycontin.  The defining memory of this summer is going to be listening to TMLT while driving to and from the theater where I was running sound for a pair of summer musicals.  Windows down, balancing the imperatives of the Springsteen DNA in +@’s sound/ethos to floor it with the larger sense of being somehow lucky to have not destroyed myself/been destroyed.  To have made it this far with my own creative and technical abilities intact, and to not want to waste it on a completely temporary thrill when there’s so much to still to with myself.  It’s probably not healthy/fair to give a piece of art/artist this kind of gratitude, but I really do have that sense of being thankful that this thing exists and that I’ve gotten to watch +@ progress over the past 7 years.  I feel like their run to this point has culminated, for me at least, as an immense, transcendent gift that I want to somehow pay forward.

1. Titus Andronicus- “The Most Lamentable Tragedy” (full list is here)

There are artists you outgrow, there are artists that you part ways with, but rarest of all (because it’s on some level a matter of coincidence) is the artist that grows with you. Since 2008, Titus Andronicus have been (for me anyways) the most consistent band in the last category. Each record of theirs has spoken directly to where I was at and what I was dealing with both personally and existentially, sometimes in ways I only truly understood retroactively.
Hell, I feel like their albums are so poetically dense that even auteur/singer/guitarist Patrick Stickles might not fully realize all he’s speaking to until months or years down the line. I’m obviously bringing my own overclocked bad brain to it and probably catching things that range from very clever and very intended to flat-out-wrong. Interested parties can check out the genius page for the play by play on their entire body of work.


Anyhow, each of their 3 releases leading up to this one could be it’s own, “last-night-a-zip-file-the-band-may-or-may-not-have-leaked-themselves-saved my life”, but those all deserve their own space and own arguments. What really sets up my context for their fourth album, 2015’s 93-minute rock opera, “The Most Lamentable Tragedy” is the interview Stickles did on Marc Maron’s wtf podcast back in January of 2014. In it, he talks about his struggle with Bipolar disorder and how the accompanying highs and lows effected (and continue to effect) his life and work. There’s a moment where he talks about how the drugs “destroyed the poet in me” and it was just devastating for me to hear that because I was in the middle of a creatively fallow year where my own ability to generate work that used to feel like it showed up effortlessly was gone and here was the closest thing I have to a rock star admitting to the same thing. Like, I got the sense that he was working on the thing, but that there was also no guarantee of a comeback because he didn’t know what was next personally or professionally.


Fast forward to “Dimed Out” in May of this year. It’s incredible. It’s the kind of mutant that feels like it was designed to crash my brain specifically. Not 100% carpeted in lyrics, but there’s certainly not much of the hardwood of the music showing through the volleys of phrases and ideas Patrick is spitting. I can’t think of another song that’s felt as instantly healing and affirming.
“Dimed Out” would’ve been a net disappointment, however, if the rest of the record wasn’t also excellent. Like, it’s embarassing how badly I needed this thing to be good and I don’t know what would’ve happened if it wasn’t… Jesus, Patrick’s voice sounds like he dug his way back from Hell and that he used the force of his delivery alone to break up whatever rocks were in the way. Just haywire, tormented intensity.


Musically, you could recombine the DNA of the Replacements, Springsteen, and Husker Du to get pretty much any of the songs on here. I mention those 3 because they all covered a hell of a lot of ground and so does this album. “Funny Feeling” into “Fatal Flaw” is like “Seen Your Video” and “Bastards of Young”, I’d have to double check, but I’m fairly sure “Come On Siobhan” is the best Bruce Springsteen song of my lifetime. The way they plow into the third verse without a break matches that feeling of something at once superhuman and totally personal and specific, but also communal and impassioned and overwhelming and indescent with momentum (around 1:40 is the spot if you wanna just hear it for yourself). “Into the Void” spits the wasteland back up like “Whatever” from “Zen Arcade” ~30 years ago, which is one of probably the closest parallells for what +@ have accomplished here.


Conceptually, duality of man, id, impulse, mania, depression, how it relates back to the larger social construct etc. are what’s on the table. If you’re living with a head full of fire in an insane world, this is very likely for you. As mentioned above, it splits into 5 acts. They did a video for all of Act II, which will probably give you a fair idea of whether or not you’ve got the constitution for the full ride.