Concert preview: Titus Andronicus stays in motion with ambitious new album

Andy Downing, Columbus Alive

Chatting up Titus Andronicus frontman Patrick Stickles can, at times, feel like auditing a series of college courses that range from political science - "The artist is sort of an elected official, in a way, and the constituency is the audience," he said at one point in conversation - to physics.

Just listen to the way the singer explains Titus' momentum, which has carried the Jersey punk collective from its scrappy 2008 debutThe Airing of Grievances through last year'sThe Most Lamentable Tragedy, a sprawling, uber-ambitious punk-rock opera.

"An object in motion tends to remain in motion, right?" said Stickles, 31, who joins his bandmates for a concert at Skully's Music-Diner on Saturday, May 14. "My motivation has always been to keep going and to continue on. When we started the band, maybe our goals were to just play for friends. And after a good while of that we thought maybe we could have a 7-inch record or something. Or maybe we could go on a little tour. Then once you achieve those things it becomes maybe we can make an album. Then maybe we can tour the country. Then maybe we can make a second album. And on and on and on.

"It's basically to keep going and see how far it can go."

Tragedy, in turn, could be described as Titus' attempt to push things beyond the breaking point. Over the course of 29 tracks and 93 minutes, Stickles and Co. ping-pong ferociously between musical styles, piling on punk rippers, decimated ballads and barroom sing-alongs. Some songs, like "(S)he Said/(S)he Said," clock in just shy of 10 minutes and incorporate both rowdy rock flare-ups and deadened passages where it sounds as if the entire world has come to a halt, while others, like "Look Alive," struggle to stretch past 30 seconds and mirror the sensation of being trapped in a plummeting elevator.

"Maybe in a way this record was an attempt to test the limits of that whole [fan] relationship, and maybe the people that didn't care so much about the band or were half-heartedly supporting it or thought it was the flavor of the month or whatever, maybe this record would turn them off and tell them they should find some other band to be their fluffy, disposable plaything," Stickles said. "I hope that doesn't sound rude."

The sometimes scattered musical backdrop can be traced to the narrative thread that forms the backbone of the record: the central character's struggles with manic depression.

"My whole life I've been losing my mind," Stickles shouts at one point, a line that could serve as a suitable subhead for the album.

"A lot of the production on the record is designed to reflect the state of mind of the main character. At times when he is more empowered … the music is more lush and there's more ornamentation and fancy stuff like violins and whatnot … and that's meant to sound more like life feels when you're in those more ecstatic moments," said Stickles, who described the album's narrator as a slightly fictionalized version of himself ("I'm not really a great writer of fiction, per se," he said). "Similarly, when the character is more downcast or depressed or disempowered, those arrangements … are a lot less fantastical and more grounded in cold, hard reality."

Though navigating these various highs and lows on record didn't exactly lead to a major personal breakthrough - "I'm not certain [I'm in a better place these days]," Stickles said - it did help the frontman come to some grudging form of acceptance.

"Maybe I came to a certain peace with the cyclical nature of life, and the cyclical nature of the manic-depressive experience," he said. "These things go around in circles, and that can be frustrating, but also it's OK. The moral of the story is that every moment is just a moment. Nothing is forever. I think when you accept that … it allows you to somewhat more easily endure the times in life that are difficult, recognizing that they too are going to pass."

Skully's Music-Diner

8 p.m. Saturday, May 14

1151 N. High St., Short North