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GLOW ON by Turnstile
When a hardcore band grows up and becomes something like this, it feels like it could change the landscape forever.
Note from Craig: This week I turn the page over to one of my best friends, and maybe the one person in the world with the most shared musical crossover I’ve ever met. All this feels magical because we didn’t meet until we were grown-ass adults in 2008. We listened to almost identical catalogs of music coming of age back to the 90s. We explored the same corners of the musical world in our college years. For the last 13 years, he and I have not only recognized our shared musical history but influenced the present, each year sharing new stuff that’s making us happy.
Bottom line? I think Andrew is cool and his musical taste and knowledge are impeccable. He can predict with startling accuracy what things I’m going to like, even if it isn’t his favorite and vice versa. Although half the time I send him something, he’s like, “Yeah. I listened to that a few weeks ago.” You don’t know anyone who listens to more new music than Andrew.
Today, Andrew is covering one of our favorite albums from 2021. It didn’t make my personal Top 5, but it was in my Top 10. It’s exceptional and I love that it’s being discussed on this page by someone more qualified.
Let me start with this. Turnstile is not for me. Well, they’re not supposed to be, anyway. I’m 42 years old. I’m supposed to be immersed in dad rock. Classic rock. The 90s. Grunge. That’s my age-based wheelhouse. And I still do love my “grunge.” Pearl Jam is a staple in my yearly Spotify wrap-up.
But when it comes to music, I am a young man at heart, stuck in a perpetual state of arrested development. When I watch YouTube clips of Turnstile shows, the nonstop stage diving and pure chaos might give my 42-year-old body anxiety, but my 25-year-old soul yearns to be a part of it. This isn’t just music that I listen to. This is the music that forms the very fibers of my being. So when Turnstile started debuting songs that would be on their forthcoming album GLOW ON, I was excited, but I wasn’t sure what to expect, exactly.
Turnstile is a hardcore band from the Baltimore area. But they are not your traditional hardcore band. On GLOW ON, released in August of 2021, they display elements of hip-hop rhythms, new wave synths, soulful R&B jams, cheesy hair metal schtick, and so much more. None of these elements ever overtake an entire song. And that’s really the brilliance of this band. These are still hardcore punk songs, but they interweave elements from any and all genres into the tapestry of each song. In a song that is 120 seconds long, you might have six different sections with parts pulling from three different genres.
Take the track “Blackout” for instance. It starts with guitarist Brady Ebert playing a pretty straightforward Tunrstile-esque riff with heavy distortion. In comes vocalist Brendan Yates with his Perry Farrell-ish sound (thanks for the reference point, Craig!). “Blackout in the middle of the light / and now I’m back down with a feeling and I collide / you know it won’t be long until the end / let the spotlight shine….ON ME AGAIN” and then the song erupts into the controlled chaos of pure punk energy.
I can’t emphasize enough how rare it is for a punk band to be this in-sync with one another, every passing second of rhythm perfectly syncopated with Yates’ vocals and Ebert’s searing guitar leads cutting through like razor blades. This is musical execution that is sometimes almost derided in punk music. But Turnstile pulls it off without you even realizing it until you’ve listened to the album 50 times and start to hone in on the finer details of what is going on.
Anyway, back to “Blackout”. The song goes through another verse, and then the chorus with Yates informing us that “if it makes you feel alive / well, then I’m happy I provide / and when you see me on the floor / it’s just a part of the show.” These lyrics are particularly on the nose, of course. But that’s often what you get from Turnstile. This isn’t a band seeking to share a particular introspection. Instead, this is a band trying to convey the energy and communal spirit of what it even means to be in the hardcore punk scene. After all, this is the same band that later in the album, on the track “No Surprise” says, “and though it comes as no surprise to me / if you don’t wanna look inside of me / you gotta really see it live to get it / you gotta really see it live / you never feel it ‘til you die from it.”
As the chorus to “Blackout” ends, the guitars stop and we’re left with just Franz Lyons’ bass and Daniel Fang’s drums as the song shifts into a groovy breakdown with all punk pretense completely dropped. Then Pat McCrory brings the guitars swirling back in as we’re suddenly back to the punk sound of the chorus.
As Yates reminds us one last time that it’s just a part of the show, the instruments linger and a swirling, woozy haze of vocal effects makes us feel like the song might be ending. But then suddenly, the guitar comes back into focus and hits us with an almost heavy metal rhythmic riff. The drums and bass hit us on the points of emphasis before dropping out to just guitar again to build the tension.
Finally, we have the equivalent of a bass drop in EDM as it feels like fireworks exploding. After two measures of this, the tempo suddenly shifts faster for two more measures as the song once again shifts from metal back to punk. Then after those two measures, the guitars and bass all drop out and we’re left with an outro of African rhythmic drum beats.
Now, if you’re still reading this and wondering why I’m describing one song in so much detail, it’s because this is sort of the whole point of what makes this album so exceptional. Turnstile has been around for over 10 years and put out a few really good records prior to this. I’ve been a fan for a while. But GLOW ON is something different. It’s transcendent because it can be so many things at the same time. All of those transitions and changes I just mentioned? They all happen in under three minutes. And none of it is sloppy or feels forced. It happens without most listeners even catching on. It happens because this is the importance of Turnstile and why this is the most important album of the last decade for so many punk fans.
I started this off by mentioning that Turnstile isn’t for me. But the thing is, they really are for me. And for you. And for anyone else who wants to be a part of the show. The biggest accomplishment of GLOW ON is that it reaches across genres, styles, and personalities and is welcoming to anyone who wants to listen.
When I was a kid growing up, watching the bands I loved like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Alice In Chains break through and play things like late-night shows, SNL, or the MTV VMAs, it was inspiring. It was pretty cool that for a while that “grunge” music was the biggest music in the world, rising from obscurity. Turnstile isn’t likely to hit that kind of pop-culture relevance any time soon, but 2021 showed us that in the smaller circle of “rock music,” this surprising hardcore album was breaking through in a major way.
Hardcore punk bands don’t play late-night television. Turnstile was just on Seth Meyers. Hardcore punks bands don’t play NPR’s Tiny Desk series. Turnstile just did a Tiny Desk show. Hardcore punk bands don’t get accolades from the likes of Pitchfork. GLOW ON got an 8.4 and a ‘Best New Music’ label from Pitchfork.
Hardcore has always been on the outside. It’s outcast music for outcast people. And it can be threatening when a band like Turnstile comes along and makes something so universal. There’s been some backlash to Turnstile from people inside the hardcore scene. It’s only natural, but that knee-jerk backlash reaction to a hardcore band taking something like hardcore music and giving it to all of us sort of misses the point.
Again, this is communal music. You have to see it live to get it. The band freely allows anyone, including countless stage-diving fans on stage while they’re performing. There’s an unspoken understanding between the band and the crowd. And that live concert communal spirit is conveyed on this album. It’s why it matters when Yates says at the end of the song “T.L.C.” “I want to thank you for letting me see myself / I want to thank you for letting me be myself”. Yes, these lyrics are insular and literal. But that doesn’t mean they matter any less.
This album is perfection in punk music. There isn’t a single thing I would change about it. The album builds tension and releases it. It pushes and pulls the energy. The tracklisting is set up to give us natural breaks, but those breaks also give us some of the more beautiful and heartfelt moments of the album including Blood Orange’s incredible vocals on the track “Alien Love Call.”
(Watch the band’s video that intersperses wild live footage with one of the most chill songs in the band’s catalog.)
All of these things add up. It’s why GLOW ON is my favorite album of 2021 and it’s not particularly close. Beyond that, it might be my favorite album of the last ten years.
Post-Script from Craig: I want to thank Andrew again for bringing this write-up to the site. The album is absolutely worth your time. It will make you drive 10 miles-per-hour faster, guaranteed!
As for me and The Album of Record, I’m getting back into the writing spirit in 2022. I started listening to the Singles Soundtrack a few weeks ago. It had been a long time. I thought about writing about Singles, but it ended up not making sense to me, because it ended up being the outline for the first part of 2022. Coming next week, I’m kicking off the year for real with Dirt by Alice in Chains.
I can’t guarantee what’s next, but I have exploded into Smashing Pumpkins because of the song “Drown" from the soundtrack. Will it be Gish? Will it be Siamese Dream? I honestly don’t know yet. I’m listening, but I haven’t started writing.
If you’ve made it this far and you don’t mind telling a friend and/or subscribing, I’d appreciate it. This thing is free and likely will be forever. So, the price is right!