ALBUM REVIEW: Turnstile, GLOW ON
There is something to be said about the reliable rock band. For many years now, Maryland’s Turnstile has been that for hardcore punk. Just listen to something like “Keep It Moving” from their Step to Rhythm EP, you can hear a clear formula starting to develop. 2 to 3 minutes of unadulterated aggression: speedy drum sections, passionate vocals and groovy guitars toss us back and forth between calm and thrash. Even with all that in check, they still pepper in a slowed down Roy Orbinson sample at the tail end for good measure. It’s as if to say “there is a deep sadness behind all this noise”. They are economical with their album lengths too, before 2021 they never had an album longer than 25 minutes. Their motto has seemed to be “give these motherfuckers what they want, and then let’s dip”. They have always mixed it up just enough to hold the audience’s attention and most importantly, leave them begging for just a little bit more.
I have no authority to say that GLOW ON is their “best” album per say. In the small amount of time I’ve had to familiarize myself with their music, this album seems to be simultaneously their most accessible and their most challenging. While the anthemic shouted choruses and often familiar hardcore tropes are on full display, they take brief pauses for their listeners to vibe out. The single that got my attention was “ALIEN LOVE CALL”, who’s title precedes it. “Can’t be the only one!” lead singer Brendan Yates calls out over slow, washed out guitars. The song is straight up not even remotely hardcore or punk. They even get the king of the pastel ‘80s aesthetic, Dev Hynes (Blood Orange) to do a verse on it. Directly following this is “WILD WRLD”, a track that kicks off with fast Liquid Liquid-style percussion and technical, in your face riffs. Slow and syrupy turns to fast and fiery in the span of just two tracks. Themes of heaviness and lightness don’t only come through sonically, but lyrically as well. Just after a whimsical synth flourish opening up “MYSTERY”, Yates screams “There's a gun to my head/Are you gonna get it right?/And I believe in holding on to life/But I'm afraid too”. It feels like a fake out in a non-gimmicky way, it feels purposeful. This song focuses on childhood innocence or “mystery” being taken away and replaced with harsh realities. The next track, “BLACKOUT”, is an interesting dissection of the personal life and stage presence of the band, “won’t be long until the end, let the spotlight shine on me...If you see me on the floor, it’s just a part of my show”. It ends with this chugging cymbal heavy breakdown that adds interesting percussive elements in the final seconds. This feels like a band that not only has their fundamentals and chemistry down to a (no pun intended) science, but one that is also interested in catching a wave that the listener wouldn’t expect.
“DON’T PLAY” pulls a 180 out of the gate. It gives us 15 seconds of tried-and-true headbanging punk before slyly switching up to what sounds like groove metal. Similarly on “UNDERWATER BOI”, they give us drenched out guitar work before kicking it into high gear with some ‘00s indie-punk. Little changes happen after, from a more traditional rock section to a part where it’s light guitar and hand claps. “NEW HEART DESIGN” catches the band sounding like Two Door Cinema Club but pissed. It incorporates all these little details like chimes, echoed vocals and bits of extra guitar as well. “T.L.C. (TURNSTILE LOVE CONNECTION)” takes no time in introducing speedy hi-hats, and transitions to a different section of the song with ‘80s style drum machines and then ends with something that sounds like DIY cloud rap. Fans of their more straightforward sound will not be disappointed either. Tracks like “HOLIDAY”, “ENDLESS” and “FLY AGAIN” provide balls-to-the-wall, short form hardcore with engaging melodies and blaring guitar solos.
My one and only issue with this album is that it doesn't always deliver on the lyrical front. I have no specific instances of “cringe” lines or even anything I’d remove. There are even some tracks on here that hold to a theme (light vs dark, freedom, loneliness). Still, the band is limited by the nature of the songs they write. It’s kind of hard to deeply dive into much when the songs are under 2 minutes and end with a repeated phrase like “Don’t weigh me down/Don’t play” and “Still can’t fill the hole you left behind”. It makes it difficult or even just plain futile to really try to parse what is being said. Now what I will say is that how Yates performs these lyrics and how they are supported with dynamic instrumentation often makes up for it. Keeping it simple is this album’s greatest strength and weakness simultaneously. Even so, this a neatly ordered and replayable package of some of the best hardcore, rock and punk you will hear all year, and stands out among its contemporaries in how it constantly gives us something new and glowing to be in awe of.