AVAILABLE JUNE 21st from MERGE RECORDS
An Obelisk is the sixth album from Titus Andronicus, which finds the noted rock band under the stewardship of producer and legendary rocker Bob Mould (Hüsker Dü, Sugar, et al.). This trans-generational meeting of the minds has yielded the most immediate, intense, and unadorned Titus Andronicus record to date. Clocking in at a brisk 38 minutes and change, it is also the shortest. Recorded over six breathless days at Steve Albini’s world-renowned Electrical Audio studio in Chicago, An Obelisk presents the sound of Titus Andronicus, rock band, at its most irreducible, as monolithic as the album’s titular monument.
On An Obelisk, as always, Titus Andronicus is led by singer-songwriter Patrick Stickles, now flanked by longtime guitarist Liam Betson and the indomitable rhythm section of R.J. Gordon on bass and Chris Wilson on drums. This iteration of the rock band was established in 2016, and though it featured heavily on 2018’s A Productive Cough, An Obelisk is the first record to showcase this lineup from tip to tail, each moment of each track bearing the distinctive fingerprints of each musician, their particular chemistry carefully honed through extensive touring and rigorous rehearsals. Excepting the background vocals of Ralph Darden (Ted Leo and the Pharmacists), no outside musicians were utilized, leaving ample room for the pummeling drums and slashing guitars to thrive under the notoriously economical hand of Mould.
“Bob Mould is quite the role model to a guy like me,” Stickles confesses, tears of gratitude swelling in his bloodshot eyes. “He has conducted his 40-year career with a remarkable level of integrity and loyalty to his own internal compass. He has often zigged when he was expected to zag, but the consistent excellence of his output has earned him the unconditional trust of his audience. What more could you want than that? What better way, for a guy like me, to learn to actualize such a vision than to get into the man’s workplace and do as he tells me to do?”
Tempting as it may be to label An Obelisk a sort of “back to basics” effort for Titus Andronicus, these so-called “basics” were never presented with such direct and visceral clarity. This is not a return to the band’s roots — this is an excavation of the dirt beneath those roots which will leave no fingernail unsoiled for the band or its audience.
Longtime Titus Andronicus fans may draw a straight line from An Obelisk to the 2012 LP Local Business, but even then, Titus Andronicus could not resist piling on stately pianos and glistening violins. An Obelisk has suffered no such sweetening, as it finds a more courageous and disciplined Titus Andronicus coming back to finish the job, pivoting towards what may look like a familiar direction but breezing well past what may have seemed, at one point, to be its logical destination.
More telling is how An Obelisk functions as a kind of companion piece to A Productive Cough. Taken together, these two records present a panoramic view of Titus Andronicus’ musical interests. If A Productive Cough left listeners wondering what happened to all the fast songs, An Obelisk offers an answer — they are here. Whereas A Productive Cough was slathered with every available bell and whistle, very much a product of the studio and a demonstration of its capacity for “magic,” An Obelisk is built for the stage, the most faithful and true reflection of the Titus Andronicus live sound yet put to tape.
Thusly, An Obelisk has all the trappings of a classic punk album, though, to hear Stickles tell it, it is moreso an album about punk. “The ideology of ‘punk’ supports the elevation of our own interior authority and the degradation of exterior authority, which we recognize to be arbitrary, a tool by which the many are subjugated under the few,” Stickles explains, growing noticeably short of breath. “While the common ‘punk rocker’ will take this as license to piss on the street and generally pursue a lifestyle of nihilistic hedonism, the true ‘punk’ will recognize the price of this freedom.”
He continues, unprompted and undaunted. “In a universe which is devoid of higher meaning, it is our responsibility to impose our own meaning upon it and to afford others the space to do the same. Thusly, the true ‘punk’ must be constantly assessing and reassessing their own values and belief systems, lest they fall into the trap of merely pulling their identity off of the rack, in the manner of the snobs and meatheads they claim to oppose. This is the danger zone into which the narrator of An Obelisk finds himself thrust.”
Sensing danger, Stickles quickly clarifies. “Yes, An Obelisk has a narrator and, no, he is not me, though he and I have much in common.” Steadying himself, he elaborates. “The narrator is neither reliable nor heroic. The narrator has substantial blind spots. The narrator is quick to cast aspersions and assign blame. The narrator is anxious and paranoid. The narrator will often allow his fear to manifest itself as anger. The narrator is a product of society and, though he has a modicum of free will, he knows not how to effectively use it. When we meet him, the narrator has yet to do the work through which he might earn the freedom he so desperately desires. This is difficult, however, because, much like you and I, the narrator exists within a system designed to drive people insane.”
“The way in which an obelisk narrows as it reaches skyward reminds me of the way in which our system seems to consolidate power onto a smaller and smaller base over time,” Stickles concludes, his head and heart growing heavy. “The fact that this narrowing terminates in a pyramid, which we all understand as a loaded symbol of the establishment and their attendant cloud of secrecy, would seem to support this. Whenever, wherever the sun shines, an obelisk casts a long shadow — An Obelisk is the story of one individual’s attempt to find a place for himself in that darkness.”
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH PATRICK STICKLES