Deep Cuts #03: Title Fight – 'Shed'
Meditations on time and growing up from Kingston's finest.
Artist: Title Fight
Release: May 3, 2011
Label: SideOneDummy Records
Listen here: Bandcamp | Spotify | YouTube
I was in my early twenties in 2011. Now, I’m in my thirties and that time of my life feels foggy and distant. I was living in a house with friends and flatmates. My first serious relationship had slowly disintegrated into an amicable split. I was working an awful office job that stunted my intellectual curiosity and subsumed my life to the kind of business ontology that often plagues people of my generation.
We often talk about certain albums as being of a particular ‘time and place’; the sonic equivalent of a “You had to be there” moment. Unless you were the victim of a very special set of circumstances, privy to the emotional access and vantage point of a particular era and location, then things just won’t quite ‘click’ for you. Buyer beware, your experience may vary, etc.
Shed, the debut full-length from Pennsylvanian punk rock quartet Title Fight is one of these records. Listening to Shed now, at a remove of a full decade or more from my introduction to the group, it feels like a lightning bolt of nostalgic revelry. A whirlwind, foot-tapping trip down memory lane, complete with full-throated sing-a-longs, stage dives, and impassioned lyricism.
Shed abounds with punk rock meditations on time and growing up. Opener “Coxton Yard” bristles with double-time rhythms and angular, post-hardcore riffs, as dual vocalists guitarist Jamie Rhoden and bassist Ned Russin trade shouted lines about isolation, “feeling like a bag of bones,” and the spiritual shift that occurs in the transition from your teens to adulthood.
The album’s title track sounds like a youngblood Fugazi, with a devastating hook that dares to ask for conviction in a world of passing trends: “Shed your skin/ Find a better body to fit in.” The plaintive undercurrent of “Flood of ‘72” switches from temporality and the body to place and embodiment, stringing together a story of deluge and destruction that struck the band’s hometown of Kingston.
As quickly as it arrives, the nostalgic pining for the safety of “Society” and one’s hometown quickly dissipates on “You Can’t Say Kingston Doesn’t Love You.” Over a furious punk intro, Russin and Rhoden quip about the things holding them down and the things they yearn to leave behind: “What’s keeping me around?/ What’s keeping me chained down to shapes and sounds/ Your parents’ car, and your town?”
After the success of 2009’s The Last Thing You Forget compilation album, Title Fight rocketed to the front of the alternative/post-hardcore revival off the back of insane live-shows and simplistic yet raw songwriting. They travelled the world and played to thousands of young fans, many of whom came from their own Kingston’s, aching with the same curse of crippling interiority and millennial melancholy. Many were asking for more in their lives, myself included, and Title Fight had not only found it in their teens but were now tasked with giving that sense of purpose shape and form.
Recorded with producer and hardcore luminary Walter Schreifels, known for this genre-defining work in groups like Youth of Today, Gorilla Biscuits, Quicksand, and Rival Schools, Shed pulls off the enviable balancing act of nodding to Title Fight’s many sonic influences while still managing to carve a new path forward.
The melodic passages of “Safe in Your Skin” and the gut-wrenching hook of “Where Am I?” give voice to the band’s unique sense of ennui. Listening to the latter track now, it’s obvious to me how much of Russin and Rhoden’s lyricism resonated with my early twenty-something self—stuck in the doldrums of contemporary existence, aimless and insecure—and how much it still captivates me now:
“This strange routine sometimes weighs down on me/
But I wouldn't trade it/
Not for anything.
Maybe there's nothing/
Only this moment.
As cars pass by/
Live fast or slow or stay alive.
Where am I, while you're back home/
Time goes on and on and on and on.”
Injecting energy and passion into the record’s back-end, “Your Screen Door” sparks with melodic leads that would seem at home on a Sparta album, and a punchy rhythm section courtesy of Ned’s twin brother and drummer Ben Russin.
Album standout “27” is the definitive Title Fight anthem, a straight-forward punk rock rager carried along swiftly by Russin’s shouted vocals and a thematic core that wrestles with mortality and the little superstitions that guide our way through the chaos of modern existence. The call-and-response hook (“If I said your name 27 times/ Would that bring you back to life?”) and the powerful chorus represent a young band at the height of their authenticity: driving, passionate, and powerful.
Culminating with the post-rock inflected “Stab,” that hits like The Get Up Kids covering American Football, and crunching stop-start distortions of album closer “GMT (Greenwich Mean Time),” Shed packs more into twelve tracks and 27 minutes than most career-length discographies.
Future efforts would see the group expand into the realm of indie-rock and shoegaze, but their debut remains a relic of essence and existence. For me, it’s a portal into a time in my life that, while not entirely forgotten, is nonetheless remote and inaccessible—whether through necessity or something less defined. But music is as much a vessel as anything else and I take solace in knowing that I can listen to Shed and cross that void of time and space in an instant.