This month, New Jersey indie-punk band Titus Andronicus embark on their first acoustic tour following the release of their fifth LP, A Productive Cough. On this tour, singer-songwriter, frontman and mastermind, Patrick Stickles, is not bringing along current bandmates Liam Betson, R.J. Gordon, and Chris Wilson. Instead, this version of Titus Andronicus is going for a more intimate feel, featuring only Stickles and pianist Alex Molini performing as a duo.
Before the actual album, Titus Andronicus released A Productive Cough: The Documentary, an hour-long making-of film by Ray Concepcion. In the film, Stickles describes A Productive Cough as a "ballad record." Though this might seem like an unexpected deviation from the band's previous work, Springsteen-esque ballads like "To Old Friends And New," from 2010's The Monitor, are scattered throughout their otherwise brash and explosive discography. In this album, Stickles claims that he wanted to "put the communication first," hence its departure from punk rock aggression and volume. Stickles still foregrounds his rough and raw vocals, but this time is joined by a collective of vocalists and plays up a swaying, sing-along feel. Stickles brought on 21 musicians to collaborate on this album, which gives it an expansive sound and spirit.
On this seven-track record, Stickles pays homage to Bob Dylan with politically and socially informed lyrics. He even goes as far as covering Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone," but rewritten in the first person as "(I'm) Like A Rolling Stone." The first single released, "Number One (In New York)" expresses a painful distaste for the mistakes we make personally and collectively, especially in regard to our current president. Likewise, the bluesy rock-gospel "Real Talk" harps on the looming danger that defines the Trump era. Every verse starts with Stickles singing alone before his gang of vocalists chimes in amongst trumpet flourishes. A raw, personal meditation on the world as Stickles sees it, A Productive Cough combats despair with community and revelry. —Katie Richards