The second album by Titus Andronicus is ostensibly a concept album about the American civil war, or, according to singer Patrick Stickles, "about how the conflicts that led our nation into that great calamity remain unresolved". It's good that he told us, because like most concept albums, the linking theme remains undetectable to the listener. But it also makes sense: The Monitor – presumably named for the ironclad warship – is filled with ragged glory, punk-rock guitars bleeding into Irish reels, rock'n'roll refrains and anguished howling. Somehow, it really does sound like a rock representation of some tattered but unbowed platoon in retreat, and Titus Andronicus appear to be playing for their lives. Being from New Jersey, they make the contractually obliged reference to Springsteen in The Battle of Hampton Roads, but this passionate record sounds more true to the E Street Band's spirit than do the absurdly literal Bossisms of the Gaslight Anthem. The Monitor is maybe 20 minutes too long, and by the end you'll be as exhausted as exhilarated, but there's the promise of a rare and vivid talent here.
Michael Hann is a freelance writer, and former music editor of the Guardian