Review Summary: Initially appearing as a punk album, repeated listens reveal much, much more...
By the time Hot Water Music came to be, the emo scene of the early 90's had just entered it's second phase, with the release of Sunny Day Real Estate
's ground breaking Diary
's Dear You
a year later. These two albums showcased the slower, more musically inclined versions of emo with less obvious punk influences. Hot Water Music, however, blended the fast emocore influence with what that of which the aforementioned bands were trying to achieve, and created a sound characterised by hoarse, nearly incomprehensible vocals with strong, prominent rhythms that dominated their output.
The second (some argue third) album from Hot Water Music demonstrates a different expression of emotion that most fans of emo are used to. Instead of it being channelled through the vocalist's expression and lyrics, Hot Water Music were able to produce music that was emotional in sheer terms of musical expression as a collective. An example of this can be heard straight off the first track, 220 years
: The song is introduced with a chugging, syncopated rhythm; all instruments co-operating in perfect timing. Then a riff slips though, the rest of the band complimenting it as it continues. When the vocals come in, the band dies down so you can hear them. Chuck's scratched, strained voice is off-putting to some, but in terms of the sound the band are aiming to achieve, it couldn't work better. When the chorus comes around, Chuck is backed by Chris, both weaving in and out of each other's lines, screaming at the top of their voice, not because they can, but because it is necessary for making the song what it is; it would be lazy to not put the feeling that they do into it. All the while, they do not overpowering each other, or any other band member for that matter.
It is this concept of musicianship that separates them from other emo bands: On it's own, no particular part is able to express even a fraction of what the band achieves when all are combined. Which isn't to say that each member of HWM is not outstanding, the bass player Jason Black is particularly talented, many songs are centred around his agile, jazzy licks and lines.
is arguably the best track here, and also the most distinct, being a relatively slow song compared to the other tracks. The emotion in this track is the strongest on the album, and hence has it's place not at the start, not tucked away at the end, but right in the middle of the album. The song makes great use of dynamics, with it's slow, brooding verses, to the fast, intense, shout along chorus which again utilises both vocalists in the most effective way possible. The song also allows the guitarist to showcase his melodic side, soloing before the washed out, depressed vocals in the verses.
The album works best on vinyl, split into two halves. Not only is this the way the band intended (the liner notes claim that the CD copy is for professional use only), but it divides the album nicely: nothing is more solid than the first side of the record, I personally would not change a thing about the order of tracks. The second side is less impressive, but is worth it for North & About
and the final track, Drunken Third
Overall, I would recommend this album for fans of punk music, who are open to the more emotional side of hardcore. At first the album can be a bit inaccessible due to the roughness of the vocalists (yes, both of them), but is ultimately rewarding, as is the rest of their catalogue. Thanks for reading
North and About