From its seven-minute opener, “A More Perfect Union,” to its 14-minute “The Battle of Hampton Roads” closer, “The Monitor” — the new sophomore CD from erudite New Jersey buzz band Titus Andronicus — doesn’t follow safe songwriting patterns.
Its shortest track, “Titus Andronicus Forever,” clocks in at a punk-frantic 1 minute, 55 seconds, and consists of frontman Patrick Stickles repeatedly chanting, “The enemy is everywhere!”
The disc was also scripted as a lofty concept album, based on the historic 1862 battle between two Civil War ironclads, the Merrimack and the Monitor. It also happens to rock like nobody’s business.
Former English major Stickles, who brings his band to The City today, is the rarest of birds, a literate intellectual who can really pound out the power chords.
“I think reports about those being mutually exclusive terms might’ve been exaggerated,” he says. “All human brains vacillate between cerebral and visceral impulses — those are the things that are constantly pushing and pulling in every human. But rather than deciding that you’re going to take sides and pursue one at the expense of the other, why not just accept both of them? And pursue both of them wholeheartedly?”
Taking its name from the Shakespeare play, the group had its modus operandi in place by its clever second single, “Camus” backed with “Upon Viewing Brueghel’s Landscape With the Fall of Icarus.” It’s not your typical Top 40 fodder.
Stickles is baffled that more alternative outfits don’t reference elite sources like Camus’ “The Stranger” because “he talked about the kind of things that punk seemed to be interested in,” he says.
“But happening concurrently with us becoming a more advanced species is that we, as individuals, don’t seem to be getting any smarter,” Stickles says. “Even though we’ve got all these tools that are supposed to make us higher-functioning creatures.”
Stickles made a conscious effort to throw out every last rule of composition with “The Monitor.” Why does a song have to be only 3½ minutes long, or rely on a time-tested verse/chorus/bridge schematic?
As inspiration, he cites the maverick Neutral Milk Hotel, “who made the greatest rock ’n’ roll record ever that’s without a single repeated refrain on it. All those rules are completely arbitrary, anyway. And they’re not the most useful ways for us to get our various points across, so who needs ’em?”
Even the man’s stream-of-consciousness website postings are Chomsky-deep. “I guess I’m just trying to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being,” he says. “You know, like Carl Jung said.”
IF YOU GO
Where: The Independent, 628 Divisadero St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. today
Contact: (415) 771-1421; www.ticketweb.com