The dream is over. A few days prior to my writing this, it was announced that Hot Water Music's self imposed 'extended hiatus' was to become a full break-up. And very sad news this is, as HWM are one of the most honest and heartfelt bands to ever have set foot on stage. Over the 12 years since their inception, HWM have released countless albums, singles, EPs, and have appeared on equally as many compilations, peddling their wares; rough-edged, emotional punk rock with a unique sound all their own.
A Flight And A Crash
was released during the foul nu-metal infested year of 2001 on (world-renowned independent label) Epitaph Records, and despite releasing Paper Thin
as a single with its accompanying video, the band never received the recognition such a brilliant and original release should have earned. The band seemingly foresaw this, as album highlight Swinger
features the lines 'The finest hour has stayed unknown'
and 'Hanging on, waiting for recognition,'
a sad indictment indeed of their status as underdogs for the majority of their 12 years.
The key to HWM's music is the way in which each band member in integral to the overall sound. On many modern day punk releases, the bass is inaudible, the drums regularly follow the same pattern, and one guitarist is forced into the strict role of playing rhythm guitar only. Not so for Hot Water Music. Chuck Ragan and Chris Wollard throw out varied riffs, often both playing very different lead lines at the same time, creating a pleasantly chaotic effect. The playing may often be quite simplistic, but it is nevertheless very effective. Jason Black's considerable bass skills are apparent throughout the album. His varied basslines anchor the schizophrenia of the guitar riffs to a catchy melody and rhythm, and the fills he throws down on a regular basis are nothing short of breathtaking. In addition, he seems to have nailed the best sounding bass guitar tone I have ever heard! George Rebelo's drumming is the driving force propelling the rest of the band along, providing a solid backbone to the HWM sound, with an impressive array of inventive fills too! The icing on the cake and a key defining point of Hot Water Music's distinctive sound is the twin vocals of Chris and Chuck. Neither of them stray out of the way of melody, save for the odd shout here and there, but their gruff singing style, soaring melodies, and brilliant use of subtle vocal harmonies is unique and often sends a shiver down the spine. The production, courtesy of Brian McTernan is nothing short of excellent, hitting the perfect balance between a rough, raw feel, and the clarity of sound which allows all of the instruments and vocals to be heard and to come into their own.
As for the songs, there is quite simply no filler to be found on here. From the more energetic punky numbers like A Flight And A Crash
, Sons And Daughters
, and Instrumental
(which incidentally is not actually instrumental ' it features plenty of vocals!), to the more plentiful amount of mid-paced rockers on offer, including highlights such as Jack Of All Trades
, Paper Thin
, Choked And Separated
and Old Rules
starts with a jaunty little bassline that wouldn't be out of place in a ska song, and morphs into one of the most memorable and melodic moments on the album, the band showing a little more restraint than usual, before the anthemic dual-vocal style outro. There's even a slow number in the form of She Takes It So Well
The lyrics on display are varied and cover several issues, from general feelings and statements of intent and personal philosophy, to a reasoned rejection of organised religion (Sunday Suit
- 'Sunday suit never fit quite right/Maybe why I never saw your light/Fear had its grip for quite some time/So I obeyed and lied'
), commentary on the bleakness of being ill or on medication (Paper Thin
- 'White, white walls and hospitals/All of us feel trivial'
), relationship troubles (Choked And Separated
- 'Been broke down, choked out, not speaking, not breathing in/Are we gonna fix it?'
), and a biting criticism of the hardcore punk scene at the time (Call It Trashing
- 'Wait, it's all sounding the same/It's all It's all charades and shadows.'
and 'Rehashed beats and breakdowns/Surround and take the diversity away'
). All the lyrics are well written, very distinctive, and contribute to the band's overall unique style.
That last lyrical quotation is particularly relevant, as HWM are a band who could never be accused of lacking diversity, and A Flight And A Crash
is solid proof of that fact. There's no way I could try and recommend particular tracks over others, as the whole record is a series of small masterpieces, each one as memorable as the last. This album is a joint high-point in the career of Hot Water Music, tied with it's follow-up, Caution
, and should be a permanent fixture in the record collections of anyone who considers him or herself a fan of good, honest rock music.