There’s a particular type of contemporary doomsayer who would have you believe that, thanks to the internet, music has been rendered all but worthless: mass downloading has revealed that all...Expand
There’s a particular type of contemporary doomsayer who would have you believe that, thanks to the internet, music has been rendered all but worthless: mass downloading has revealed that all the good stuff has already been made, so that the best we can hope for in 2013 is competent pastiche of the genuine articles, or, better yet, that the genuine articles themselves — the prelapsarian legacy bands — will intermittently reappear in good faith for non-embarrassing reunions. So why go to the trouble?
This hell-in-a-handbasket story, though a perfect complement to an unhappy young person’s self-pitying sense that now is a uniquely unhappy time to be young, is fatally flawed because it fails to account for such an artist as Title Fight, a punk/indie band comprising four hardcore kids in their early 20s who hail from the anthracite hills of northeastern Pennsylvania. If playing earnest, energetic music that makes novel, thought-provoking use of diverse influences really were an exercise in futility at this moment in cultural history, Title Fight wouldn’t be flourishing 10 years after forming, they wouldn’t have some of the most loyal fans in all of music, and they wouldn’t have bothered creating a record as deft and affecting as Spring Songs, their new four-song EP, which, when it’s released in November on Revelation Records, will stand as the band’s best release to date.
But they are. They do. They did. Why go to the trouble? Because, as Title Fight has proved, the surest way to forestall cynicism is to forgo it.
* * *
Title Fight (bassist-singer Ned Russin, his twin brother and drummer Ben Russin, guitarist-singer Jamie Rhoden, and guitarist Shane Moran) formed as middle-schoolers in 2003 in Kingston, PA, which lies immediately across the Susquehanna River from Wilkes-Barre, a hardscrabble coal town whose best economic days are far behind it but whose tight-knit local hardcore-punk scene has long been nationally renowned for its industriousness (the city was home to the Homebase warehouse and the Redwood Art Space, two of the most admired American DIY venues in the past 15 years) and for spawning bands — such as Bedford, Magnus, Frostbite, Cold World, War Hungry, Bad Seed, Dead End Path, and Stick Together — who evince striking levels of talent, energy, sincerity, and stylistic eclecticism. Title Fight typifies this lineage not only with inspired, nuanced, deeply personal songwriting and ferocious live shows but also by emphasizing respect for elders and an unconditional, if complicated, love of hometown, and, most important, by never treating a fan or friend as a dispensable means to an end.
Such generosity of spirit is bound to be repaid, and so it has been. Throughout Title Fight’s evolution — the straight-up pop-punk of the early demos; the Lifetime-inspired melodic hardcore of their 2008 Kingston 7” EP; the noisier, janglier but no less fervent hardcore of Shed, their 2011 debut LP; the throat-shredding, shoegaze-tinted wall of sound that characterized Floral Green, their 2012 followup LP — successive cohorts of wide-eyed, inspiration-seeking New New Romantics have embraced them and resolutely stuck by them, thereby affording the band precious leeway within which legitimate, non-pandering creativity can take place.
“It’s difficult to know for sure, but I think that if I were a young Title Fight fan who discovered the band five years ago, I’d appreciate the growth we’ve achieved on Spring Songs,” Ned Russin says. “I think there are some constants, but we really try and push ourselves.”
As has been the case with every Title Fight record to date, Spring Songs opens with an up-tempo scream-along anthem: “Blush,” whose lines and textures pick up almost exactly where the critically acclaimed Floral Green left off last year. Then, right away, as if to purposefully erase any lingering preconceptions, comes a stark counterpoint, “Be A Toy,” whose tuneful eccentricity recalls no earlier Title Fight song so much as Archers of Loaf’s legendary Icky Mettle and Vee Vee albums.
Side B begins with “Receiving Live,” the most plaintive, plainspoken, and plain old devastating Title Fight song yet recorded — a song that, in all of two couplets (“Drove my car that weekend/100 miles barely speaking/9 AM heavy breathing/Try to figure out the meaning”), achieves the psychological acuity of a Junot Diaz short story or Richard Linklater film. Finally, there’s “Hypnotize,” which will have every aging indie rocker who deigns to hear it frantically rooting through Rubbermaid containers full of neglected CDs, pulling out Sebadoh’s Bakesale, Polvo’s Cor-Crane Secret, and Versus’s Swinging Sisters for impromptu private listening parties.
All this is a far cry from the Kingston 7”. But, as Russin points out, the world of Alias, Merge, Sub Pop, and Matador has in common with the world of Revelation, Equal Vision, and Jade Tree deep affinities that outweigh the largely superficial differences.
“When I was growing up, I was given a vast array of music all at once, by older friends and family members, from the punk and indie scenes,” he says. “Because of my initial experience, I was able to find similarities in music that were blatantly different — the melodies and riffs were different, but the energy and attitude was the same. I still draw inspirations from both worlds when I’m writing.”
No one who thinks that all the good ideas have been used up could say those words. Moreover, if it were really true that there’s nothing new under the sun, Quicksand, a genuine article if ever there was one, wouldn’t have had reason, beyond opportunistic commercial considerations, to invite Title Fight to open for them earlier this year, when a much-anticipated and well-received reunion tour reached California. But, according to Quicksand frontman (and producer of Shed) Walter Schreifels, this was no cross-promotional pretense: “There’s a commonality between Quicksand and Title Fight: taking the raw energy of hardcore and trying to mold something new. With two inspiring full-length records already under their belt, it still seems to me that Title Fight have only begun to tap into their creative potential. I plan to stay tuned.”
Now that’s a story both good and true.