Ted Leo has reached the point in his career where a review of a new album doesn't really serve all that much of a purpose. The indie-rock stalwart has more than proven his worth over the past two decades, riding a 15-year streak of consistently strong records dating back to his old mod-pop band Chisel. "The Brutalist Bricks" is Leo's latest collection of songs that showcases his elastic voice, fightin' words and seemingly endless supply of memorable riffs. It's not his best (I still go back and forth on "Tyranny of Distance" and "Hearts of Oak" for that honor) but it doesn't need to be. Another dozen or so finely-crafted, hard-edged pop songs is good enough.
"The Stick" and "Mourning in America" have a bit more low-end rumble than previous, more tinny efforts. "Even Heroes Have to Die" takes its place among his best compositions -- muted guitars gracefully giving way to punchy choruses, heart always on sleeve. And that's really the best compliment you can give "Bricks." As with every Leo album and especially with every show, the dude means it. "The Mighty Sparrow" sounds like any number of handful of songs he's already written, but that doesn't mean he doesn't pour himself into it with the same passion as if it was the first time. "The Brutalist Bricks" is just another Ted Leo album --but that's high praise, not a letdown.
(A monster effort from Titus Andronicus, after the jump.)
"The Monitor" by fellow Jersey-ites Titus Andronicus is far from "just another" anything. It's a collection of true barnstormers, loosely based around some Civil War concept, filled with songs that zip past the five-minute mark as singer Patrick Stickles leads his band through desperate anthems while screaming and shouting as if every breath is his last.
It's one of those records that begins with a snippet of a speech to make it seem like something Very Important is about to happen. And then that first song, "A More Perfect Union," packs in almost half a dozen lyrical references to New Jersey before Stickles screams, "Tramps like us/Baby we were born to die!" and launches into a guitar solo longer than most Ramones songs. Does it sound a bit like Bright Eyes doing Hold Steady covers? Yep. Is there actually a song called "Titus Andronicus Forever"? You betcha. Does it manage to make an overarching, unifying statement? No. But that's sort of the point.
Not to make this a zero-sum game, but listening to the "The Monitor" in contrast to so much of the music that is coming out of the rock underground these days, it sounds simply monstrous. Stickles never even considers the possibility of holding back, going for broke at all times. There are so many one-idea albums out there right now and "The Monitor" is the opposite of that. Even if every idea doesn't work, it fits perfectly with the chaotic feel of the album.
It can get exhausting as song after song twists and turns, eventually revealing itself to be a fist-pumping anthem. But every time Stickles wins you over just on sheer force of will.