Review : Hot Water Music - Exister
ConsequenceofsoundThe return of Gainesville, FL’s Hot Water Music with Exister after an eight-year-hiatus presents an interesting perspective on the “reunion of beloved band” algebra. Yes, it’s “only” been eight years since the band’s last album, but as math tells us, eight years is the difference between being a 16-year-old kid and being a 24-year-old college graduate, between being a 27-year-old finding your bearings in the “real world” and being a 35-year-old with a family and the weight of the “real world” suddenly resting on your now-slouching shoulders. And then there’s the fact that HWM was never your typical punk band, but rather a beefy rock band with a spittle-flecked anger that reflected their roots in Gainesville’s vibrant punk scene. They were a rock act that punk kids liked, but the group’s devotion to the scene, allegiance to punk ethics, and, of course, a long run of incendiary live shows ensured Hot Water Music a permanent place in the hearts of Punks of a Certain Age.
What’s most notable here is what’s happened in the eight years since Hot Water Music last released an album. Yeah, Chuck Ragan embarked on a solo roots-rock endeavor that added even more whiskey-grizzle to his already rough-hewn voice; the other band members briefly worked as The Draft, playing some very Hot Water-esque sounds before also working on solo material. But more importantly, this “reunion” has actually been going on for more than four years, with the band playing dozens of shows every year, further tightening their classic material and laying the groundwork for Exister, an album that not only succeeds as a worthwhile addition to their catalog, but also as a new direction, one that takes into account the fact that the band–and their audience–has grown up quite a bit since the early ’90s....full text
AvclubWhen Hot Water Music’s debut, Finding The Rhythms, came out in 1995, it already sounded familiar. On one hand, the Florida quartet drew from Jawbreaker, Leatherface, and other gruff pop-punk bands of the era; on the other, HWM amplified its simple songs with the wiry, post-hardcore dynamics of Fugazi. That formula became a huge influence on the mainstream emo of the ’00s, and with that wave mostly past, a new generation of gritty-yet-catchy punk groups have picked up HWM’s torch. HWM itself, though, hasn’t released an album since 2004’s solid The New What Next. Singer-guitarist Chuck Ragan has been concentrating on a folkie solo career, and the remaining members teamed up in the short-lived, Foo Fighters-leaning The Draft. Exister is HWM’s comeback—and while it sticks to the familiar elements that made the band so beloved in the first place, it finds far less inspiration in them.
Exister’s lack of spark isn’t immediately obvious. In fact, the opening riff of “Mainline” kicks in like an ornery mule. The problem is, Ragan sings it like an ornery mule, too. The last eight years he’s spent as a rootsy troubadour have aged his voice, which sounded grizzled 18 years ago; now, he sounds out of place when played off of HWM’s latent angularity (and in particular, Jason Black’s bubbly, almost funky bass, which has never sounded less suited to an HWM song). “Drown In It” is as dour as its title would indicate, a minor-key dirge with a vague, hungover, Social Distortion vibe—but in the worst sense. Singer-guitarist Chris Wollard—always more melodic than Ragan—no longer take advantage of his and Ragan’s once-thrilling interplay, either vocally or instrumentally; “Wrong Way” is as close as they come, but even that promising song quickly fizzles into a drab slog of busy yet aimless angst.
A handful of tracks manage to convey some sense of energy and urgency. Few of them, though, rustle up the dark hooks that used to be HWM’s greatest strength. “State Of Grace,” “Safety,” and “The Traps” are the closest to vintage HWM anthems that Exister can muster. But even then, they feel flat and forced. It’s telling that one of the disc’s best songs, “Pledge Wore Thin,” barely sounds like HWM at all; instead, it owes a huge debt to the group’s friends in The Gaslight Anthem. As much as Gaslight is partially influenced by HWM, though, the younger group’s ringing, rousing Springsteen-isms sound downright corny when appropriated by Ragan and crew. Added to Exister’s overall lack of luster, it helps make for a confused, conflicted, and muddy album—one that, as its name implies, seems far too content with the simple fact that it exists....full text
DyingsceneI don’t remember a time when Hot Water Music wasn’t iconic. Being late to the game, I always had to contend with Hot Water Music being one of those bands. A classic, required listening. A luminary with a discography as extensive as it is menacing. Older readers may place more distinction on the Florida punks, separating them from the older, dinosaurs of the genre. But to me they were in the same ivory tower as Minor Threat and The Clash. Untouchable because of their reputation as infinitely important to the genre’s timeline.
On “Drag My Body” the ever gravelly Chuck Ragan sings “I found the pedestals and burned them down to kill my idols and to bury the thoughts underground.”
If only it were that easy, Chuck.
When I started listening to Hot Water Music I didn’t find a sacred cow to slaughter. I found what everyone else found, an institution. And with that it became clear that their hiatus wouldn’t be wasted on me; I did my research, I caught up. I gracefully joined the greater masses of punk rock. So, when the news of their reformation hit me, I gleefully took part in the gladiatorial battles of internet discussion. After all, I was a fan now, and I could not contain my enthusiasm. But now, the emotions have leveled and I can say I’ve listened to Exister. Preconceptions are out the window and it’s time to take a hard look at what we’ve been delivered.
After such a long exile, the obvious question is one of yearning. Will they be the same? The obvious answer is ‘no’. Except for the band’s sacred fundamentals, Exister doesn’t really sound like Fuel for the Hate Game. If this bums you out, that’s fine. But it’s undeniably the sound Hot Water Music has been building to throughout their career. And after eight years of non-activity, it feels like they picked up right where they left off. Exister is a continuation of a long and storied history, and it might be their best album to date....full text
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