Title Fight’s Ned Russin, a.k.a. Kingston post-punk artist Glitterer, releases 2nd album, ‘Life Is Not a Lesson’
From a press release:
The A.V. Club wrote, “Russin delivers full-throated testaments to the struggles of living through each day without curling up into the fetal position on the ground. It’s stirring, and addictive, and unadorned – catchy Beatles-punk anthems at their finest.”
Two weeks ago, he shared the title track from the new LP with a music video directed by Chris Tharp at the beach.
“The song ‘Life Is Not a Lesson’ came about halfway through the writing process,” Russin said.
“I borrowed the line from a recently-written-yet-unused lyric. It seemed like the sentiment in the song answered a lot of the questions that earlier songs had brought up, and the further along the album went, it just felt right to title the album after this lyric and its solution. It summed up succinctly what I was trying to say all along – life is not a lesson to be learned.”
BrooklynVegan wrote, “This one’s a lot more atmospheric and subdued than the two previous singles, which were closer to Title Fight’s loud, driving sound, but it’s still unmistakably the work of Ned Russin and a very compelling song.”
The album was first announced in December with the single “Are You Sure” that debuted with a music video directed by his twin brother Ben Russin, who played drums on this song as well as in Title Fight, the Kingston punk/shoegaze band that rose from local favorites to international fame with three acclaimed studio albums.
“The major theme in ‘Life Is Not a Lesson’ is desire,” Ned Russin explained.
“‘Are You Sure?’ is a song about certainty. My younger self was fascinated with and comfortable in assurances. I felt very sure I had the answers to a lot of questions. What am I doing with my life? What do I like? Who am I? My current self not so much. This song addresses the desires to find these answers while admittedly contradicting itself in the face of their questions, unsure if they’re even important to answer in the first place.”
Lyrically, as with the prior album, many of the songs are short, dialectical considerations of the countless daily miniature panic attacks that attend the rigorously examined life. For example, the lyrics of “Are You Sure” – “Feel it in my spine / Certainty is mine / Are you sure?” – combines the tension-building properties of Guided by Voices’ “Hot Freaks” with the tension-resolving blast of something like The Pixies’ “Gouge Away.” The album proves to be a rigorous reckoning with the life of the mind at a time when there’s not much life outside the mind.
This track was followed by the second single, “Didn’t Want It,” a slowed-down, fuzzed-out invocation of Sebadoh’s driving infectiousness circa “Bakesale” and an unsentimental ode to abandoned ambitions (“Didn’t want to want it all / Found a word, made me feel small … Didn’t want it / Did I now?”).
It premiered in January with a flowery lyric video hand-drawn and animated by Rob Fidel.
“‘Didn’t Want It’ was the first song I wrote for the new record,” he noted.
“Despite having no road map for how the rest of the songs would turn out, this track established a lot of the qualities that would be further explored as I continued to write – more present and fuzzed out guitars, minimalistic chord changes, and uncertain, longing lyrics.”
Now living in Washington, D.C., Russin co-fronted Title Fight for many years before the band suspended operations and Ned created Glitterer, releasing his debut album, “Looking Through the Shades,” in 2019. “Speckled with synths and/or propelled by a thumping drum machine … it’s a far cry from anything Russin has ever been a part of before,” Stereogum wrote.
“Looking Through the Shades” was recorded and co-produced by Arthur Rizk (Code Orange, Power Trip), but this time, Russin has produced the album himself, notwithstanding some recording and performance help from his brother Ben. Irrespective of worldly doom and gloom, these songs are even catchier and bigger-sounding than his debut material. With roomier drums recorded by Colin Gorman in Kingston and more electric-guitars-per-square-inch than ever, “Life Is Not a Lesson” has a way of evoking an alternate universe version of Guided by Voices, one with a hardcore punk background. And if there was, perhaps, an indirect or “meta” aspect to the pop appeal of Glitterer’s older records, there’s essentially none of that here – this is Glitterer’s most insistently and proudly accessible work.
It’s been said by more than one terminally dour culture critic that to make, or even care about, art in the wake of mass atrocity is callous, barbaric even. If that’s true, then what are we unfortunate denizens of 2020 to make of Glitterer’s deceptively upbeat, synth-infused introspective rock music, which is still being recorded and released in the midst of global plague? Well, the world may have ended but life goes on, and so does consciousness, both individual and collective, which means Glitterer still has a job to do.
Title Fight formed in 2003 and released three albums before the young musicians took time off to live life and focus on other projects, playing only sporadic shows like a benefit with Turnstile in 2018. Ned Russin then became Glitterer, but he had actually always been Glitterer, just as it had always been him, but there were no Glitterer records until 2017, when the first of two self-released EPs appeared.
Those were odd, charming, clever, eloquent, and highly proficient records, handmade in the spartan bedroom pop mode – some programmed drums and keyboards with an electric bass and a voice. The songs were about the trap of self-awareness and the impossible dream of self-negation; and despite their being, combined, all of about 18 minutes long, they left long-lasting impressions, stuck themselves in peoples’ heads and stayed put. They attracted a good amount of attention too because many music fans and “industry observers” knew who he was. But there was nevertheless a lower-stakes air around the project in those earlier days – something interesting and inchoate that he was fiddling with.
Then Glitterer started touring – Russin at the wheel of the rental car, a laptop full of backing tracks riding shotgun – and a record deal came and, before he knew it, there were videos and a debut full-length, “Looking Through the Shades.” That record came out on Anti- in the summer of 2019, a faintly remembered and much-romanticized period during which musicians were crisscrossing the world, performing live and in the flesh for crowds well in excess of five people, including his sold-out show at Karl Hall in Wilkes-Barre on Aug. 15.
“Looking Through the Shades” had a much bigger sound than the EPs – fuzzy guitars, live drums, a nice wide stereo mix befitting the best crunchy indie rock – and it had a cohesive, if somewhat oblique, visual concept that recurred in the videos, press materials, and album layout, which involved Russin going about various banal activities while wearing a red vintage Gorilla Biscuits hoodie. The album was a tight piece of work – it had vision, focus, ambition, and scope, even though, as before, most of the songs were remarkably concise and direct. It was the work of a curious and confident professional musician engaging perspicaciously with the world as it was (then).
We all know what has happened since because of the coronavirus pandemic – across-the-board erasure of every single presupposition and condition-to-be-taken-for-granted. A sudden and comprehensive blanking of the slate. A whole new world and a whole new metaphysical terrain. And into this new context of no context comes the second Glitterer full-length, “Life Is Not a Lesson.” While self-produced, he had some help from his brother as well as mixing and mastering by Rizk.
Of course we should make and cherish art in the wake of human tragedies. Those who say otherwise make the mistake, common among too-clever-by-half critical theoreticians, of assuming that art is only ever about prestige, propriety, and good taste – a frivolous social game played by elites with nothing on the line. The truth is that art – the real thing, the good stuff – might be the only part of modern life that isn’t barbaric. The darkest and deadliest events in our history, like the manifold calamities of 2020, aren’t pieces of an academic puzzle to be pondered from a safe remove. Tragedy is not “material” – it’s life. Life is not a lesson – it’s life. And life goes on.
Knowing that, all we can do is heed the title track of Glitterer’s new album, which is maybe the closest thing to an intellectual manifesto that we’ll ever get from Ned Russin: “Think aloud / Inherit doubt / Build another bridge for them to burn / Run away / Speak slowly / Life is not a lesson to be learned.”