February 5, 2015 | by Rebecca Ungarino

Ned Russin wore a Wilkes-Barre Straight Edge varsity jacket and Jamie Rhoden wore a long sleeve shirt on November 23, 2008 in a Huntington, New York backyard. Drummer Ben Russin wore a hat tight to his head. Title Fight played an outdoor set that included songs such as “Memorial Field” and “Western Haikus” for a crowd of about 20.

Everyone in the crowd wore a hood and Ned wore his, too. The small flock of mostly young men crowded around Jamie on the grass and sang, screamed along, no stage, no barricade. The band had released several EPs and demos and things since 2003, but The Last Thing You Forget, a compilation that effectively functioned as the band’s debut full-length album on Run for Cover Records, would not be released for nearly a year, in September 2009.   

Epitaph Records sister label ANTI-—the label of the Weakerthans, Neko Case, Tom Waits and Elliott Smith, among others—released Hyperview earlier this week, with NPR Music’s First Listen premiering the album shortly before that and Vogue’s website premiering “Rose of Sharon” in January.

‘You’re spending too much time digging graves, and sharpening your knives, all’s well, wish you the best, you disagree with thoughts you would suggest’ – “Loud and Clear,” The Last Thing You Forget, 2009

Time brings change, even to punks. Title Fight’s sound has shifted over three full-length albums and a bevy of shorter releases from the bouncy, gritty sad veneer of earlier songs to the dreamy devastation that is Hyperview. Nevertheless, and perhaps most rewardingly: the band has preserved its passionate stage presence, its hard-hitting raw lyricism, and appeal with the majority of longtime listeners through sea change.       

“Sure, Title Fight is not the pop punk, melodic hardcore band that they were as teenagers, but as people grow up, their musical interests mature as well,” said Jake Zimmerman of East Coast Collective, a Long Island, New York-based promotion and booking company, whose backyard the band played on that fateful late November day.

“That’s natural for anyone. They don’t pretend to be something that they’re not. I think they are as genuine as they come,” he continued.

When the quartet – Ned Russin on bass and vocals, Jamie Rhoden on guitar and vocals, Shane Moran on guitar and synth, and Ned’s brother Ben on drums – released Shed on SideOneDummy Records in 2011, the reception was mostly praise. Its sound was very much like the record Title Fight had put out two years earlier, but its lyrics were a hair subdued, and aggression limited on tracks like “Safe in Your Skin” and “Flood of ’72.” Shed was still angry as hell in spots, though, as evidenced by Ned Russin’s guttural vocals and spit-shouting on “27” and “Society.” 

‘I’d drag you down and put you in your place, shed your skin, you change your face’ – “Shed,” Shed, 2011

If there is any general chronology a listener could assign to Title Fight’s growth over the past twelve years, one could say, arguably, that 2012’s Floral Green was the tipping point. Lyrically, vocally, the band had become heavier. “Secret Society” and “Head in the Ceiling Fan” premiered that summer, the scratchy Hi8 music video setting the tone for the gradually slower, more ethereal outros and rougher lyrics to come. “Frown” and “Make You Cry” were two tracks on Floral Green inspired by the death of a friend of the band, Ned Russin said in a 2012 interview.

Title Fight now fits into this odd corner that is not quite the “mainstream,” with songs premiered by fashion magazines and affiliations with large independent record labels. They’re likely not being played on your local active rock station, but they’re more or less out of what we, as punks, consider the underground. Zimmerman is not surprised the band has broken into “a more mainstream audience.” One reason, he said, is their dedication.

‘Bad luck never leaves, the jinx just floats around, like the taste inside your mouth, or the sound when your skull cracks’ – “Lefty,” Floral Green, 2012

“From day one, I admired Title Fight because of how hard working and committed they are, to their ethics and ideals,” he said. The band is slated to play Long Island again this March at the Spring Mixtape 2015 festival, organized by Zimmerman’s East Coast Collective.

Hyperview is a sweet, dreamy haze that maintains just enough fast-paced energy from The Last Thing You Forget, Shed, and Floral Green to resonate with longtime listeners. The ten-track album is a captivating collection of sharper shoegaze than can be found on Floral Green, with more melody and heavier lyrics.

Vocals on Hyperview, most notably in “Rose of Sharon” and “Trace Me Onto You,” are wrought with a kind of sadness that seems to have only escalated through the Title Fight’s discography. Russin sings as though he tried his best to smile, but just couldn’t, so he resorted to painful, gorgeous shouts. And it works.   

The harmonies and melodies have become more complex; vocals, on more tracks than not, even more pulsing and evil, lyrics more incandescent than ever before. As “Murder Your Memory” opens the record, the song seems to gorgeously dissolve, paving the way for the rest of the tracks. Inaudibility of ghost-like lyrics twist and turn through “Dizzy” and “New Vision.”   

“In 2008, Title Fight was surrounded by a scene of bands that were still playing basement shows, but things quickly changed,” said Zimmerman, recalling bands like Tigers Jaw, Balance and Composure, and Touché Amoré whose popularities spiked around the same time. “From day one, I admired Title Fight because of how hard working and committed they are to their ethics and ideals.”

The Last Thing You Forget is now an album played between bands, considered a bouncy, angry, fun set of songs we can show our younger siblings. It’s an introduction to an earlier sound of a band with whom we have matured.

‘Poison in your mood, chlorine eyes from you, found your place, in a model face, fell into, the violent daze’ – “Chlorine,” Hyperview, 2015

Advertisements