Both cerebral and not at all cerebral, this second album from New Jersey band Titus Andronicus tells a story based around the American Civil War as metaphor, and does it in the most exuberant of punk.
To get a proper sense for the music on offer, you'd need to run The Hold Steady through a Sex Pistols filter, with a good load of Dropkick Murphys for drunken balance. The Monitor (named after an 1850s battleship) is full of swearing, erudition and spit and fire, and a huge thrashy spirit that builds on the eponymous debut album's slackness with some real songs and direction. This band may be proving to be one of the more interesting counterpoints in American music, now that Green Day's politics are getting more stadium-level. The Monitor is a riot, almost literally, from start to finish, with rules turned over like cars in the streets. It is also a proper hoot.
ACE rating 9/10
The White Stripes
Under Great White Northern Lights
Most people now know of The White Stripes, almost as a phenomenon as much as a band. With Jack White spending so much time in side projects like The Raconteurs, the essence of the band has not been well captured in a long while. Fortunately, there is the occasionally great live performance to draw from, as a reminder of why some of us would prefer he stick to his day job. This is one of those shows, recorded in Nova Scotia, and he was clearly having a good day, one filled with audience interaction and energy. Highlights include a slowed-down (and full of sexual tension) Fell In Love With A Girl, and songs drawn liberally from the earlier albums (including covers like Jolene and I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself). The real highlight, however, is the level of bluesy edgy melody that a man with a guitar and a female drummer can put into a room. Unlike many live albums, this would be a great place to dive into The White Stripes' canon.
ACE rating 8/10
Drive By Truckers
The Big To Do
The Big To Do is Drive By Truckers tenth album, and follows Brighter Than Creation's Dark, which seemed like something of a misstep in their career - lots of songs thrown together with no overarching 'album' feel. Fortunately, this album drags the band best to what they do best - the rock of their own Southern Rock Opera. Like Neil Young on a fiery day, DBT are capable of dragging steel from rust - and here the rock flows from a country-ish folk-ish underlay. Since Jason Isbell departed, the band have taken a little while to get comfortable to continue playing the kind of music they did when he was there, but there is no doubt here that rock prevails - from the first bars, the electricity only tails off on the last quarter of the record. Joint lead singer-songwriters Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley keep their respective roles, but with renewed emphasis on great songs and great riffs, rather than just great lyrics. Fantastic to see one of America's best rock bands back on track.