The recently disbanded Hot Water Music have had a strange old time, as music careers go. Starting off in the early nineties with a slew of EPs, 7-inch singles, and rare vinyl/split/collectors' item releases, they finally got it together on two separate occasions in the first half of 1995 to record the songs that make up Finding The Rhythms
, their first official full length album. After this, they would go on to release several more full length albums, a b-sides collection, an insane amount of singles/EPs etc. and several split recordings with other bands, not to mention a brief break-up in the late nineties which preceded the recording of a live album, and then ultimately, the recent break-up this year. However, Finding The Rhythms
is where their signature sound started to really become apparent, and the songwriting really began to gel.
HWM's sound has always been around a solid rhythm section, and this is evident right from the get-go. George Rebelo is a monster behind the kit, with his solid, heavy beats being augmented by some crazy fills which fit in seemlessly alongside his insane bass pedal work (there are odd moments on the album where it almost sounds like he's using double bass pedals, but I know for a fact he never has used them, so that should give you an idea of the skill involved here!). Jason Black is probably one the most underrated bassists in the world of punk rock. Never content to just sit back and follow the guitars, Black constantly peppers his playing with bass chords, crazy fretboard runs, high pitched sequences of hammer-ons and pull-offs, and occasionally even harmonizes with the guitars, using his bass as a lead instrument as much a rhythm one. Although subtly delivered, his basslines are always audible and augment the melodies and rhythms perfectly.
Another defining point of Hot Water Music's style however, is the guitar attack of Chuck Ragan and Chris Wollard. The guitarwork is usually fairly simplistic, using the powerchordy style of most melodic punk, but also subtle harmonies, one/two note riffs, softly picked clean passages, and some amount of lead work too. Thankfully, they don't always follow the old standard of one doing rhythm and one doing lead. Chris and Chuck regularly trade duties, sometimes both doing lead, or in more chaotic moments, both playing totally different guitar lines which intertwine, without it quite being clear whether or not there is any rhythm guitar in there at all... It all makes for a very original and unique sound, and is varied enough that it doesn't become stale or formulaic at any point.
The vocals are shared pretty much equally between Chris and Chuck, as per usual, and both utilise the throaty, gravelly, yet somehow melodic singing style they've used throughout the history of the band, with some nice vocal harmonies, and juxtaposed parts where each sing something different. The vocals are a little rougher than later works, but not by much. The real suprise, vocally, comes in the form of bassist Jason Black providing a few lines here and there in The Passing
, and actually taking on full lead vocal duties on Incisions
. His voice is very unlike the other two vocalists, in that he uses a cleaner, slightly whiney style of singing. It fits well with the music, and to anyone who hasn't heard HWM before, it would not come as a surprise, but to me (someone who was introduced to the band through their more recent material, working backwards), it took a little getting used to, I have to admit.
However, in combination with the varied subject matter of the vaguely personal lyrics, the sound as a whole really comes together, especially in upbeat opener Scraping
with its quiet verse to loud chorus dynamics, and the juggernaut punk stylings of Floor
with its massive melodic chorus. Another highlight is Arms Can't Stretch
, which starts out subdued and quiet, and gradually builds into an epic masterpiece, with the layered vocals stretching what is essentially just one line of lyrics into a full song. The particularly bass-fuelled Practice In Blue
is a mid-paced piece combining the best parts of the songs which precede it, and the following track, Incisions
, is an anthemic masterpiece, with the repeated refrain of "Keep digging deeper in myself"
building to a crescendo at the end. Closer Eating The Filler
addresses emptiness and apathy in a fantastically catchy way, over several different tempos, switching between quiet and loud seemlessly, with a great chorus and vocal harmonies to boot, and when the everything but the vocals drop out, it adds another nice little break to the song. It may go on for over 6 minutes (quite long for a HWM song), but it doesn't seem half long enough!
Finding The Rhythms
isn't a perfect album by any means, there are some songs which don't really grab you as much as others, and a few ideas are rehashed a little here and there, but not enough to noticably spoil the flow of the album. However, one huge thing that HWM have going for them is that, quite simply, they don't sound like ANYONE ELSE!
If you've never heard Hot Water Music before, this probably isn't the best place to start, but if you're a fan or have a passing interest, and you're curious as to what their older material is like, Finding The Rhythms
is as good a place to start as any.
I give this a 4/5