Review Summary: Hot Water Music fail to disappoint, again
Hot Water Music arguably require no introduction, but I’ll introduce them anyway. The Gainesville, Florida collective have been making music together for nearly thirty years, and long-ago emerged as icons in their scene. Their early work was a blend of punk and post-hardcore which resulted in a series of widely-revered records, with this reviewer’s choice cut being the 1999 near-classic No Division
. 2002’s Caution
saw the band transition to a more accessible brand of relentlessly catchy but still fiery punk (not to say that the group had ever skimped on melody before), a style which has remained a constant in the releases since.
Feel The Void
is Hot Water Music’s fourth full-length post-Caution
, a stretch which feels like an easily-distinguishable era in the band’s history. Each of the three previous LPs in this stretch, while widely spaced apart in terms of release date, broadly tread similar sonic territory: melodic punk that might reasonably be described as pop-punk if it didn’t complete eschew the juvenility generally associated with that genre, leavened with traces of post-hardcore and Southern rock. The essential attributes of the band’s early success remain: primary vocalist Chuck Ragan’s “I just drank a barrel of whiskey” masculine roar, unusually funky bass work, and a rocking guitar attack. While career-defining highlight songs are rather sparse in Hot Water Music’s recent albums (even if 2012’s Exister
had the essential toe-tapper “Drag My Body”), the band has proved themselves invariably capable of producing solid releases, positioning themselves as the punk equivalent of Crowbar’s ever-awesome sludge metal and Motorhead’s reliable form of, well, whatever you’d like to describe them as (RIP Lemmy). And if latter-day Hot Water Music is a tad formulaic, well, hey, I’m not complaining…
Speaking generally, Feel The Void
isn’t a huge departure either from the band’s previous albums, even five years after their last record, Light It Up
. The most significant change of note simply builds off an existing trend in the group’s music, with an increasing number of somewhat slower songs, although there are still plenty of frantic punk numbers as well. Given the band members are approaching fifty, this isn’t necessarily a surprise, and both the fast and slow songs are generally well-executed. The bulk of the tracklist suffers from a malady which has plagued the band a fair bit in recent efforts: while every song is thoroughly enjoyable, most aren’t especially memorable. However, there are (by my count) three songs which clearly positively distinguish themselves from the bulk of mildly great tunes. First, there’s the early highlight “Habitual”, a ferociously catchy song raging against cancer (ain’t that a cause we can all get behind). Then there’s the final two tracks, a one-two punch of “Ride High”, the finest of the slower-paced offerings, which leans on Southern rock and maybe even a hint of Springsteenian gravitas, and “Lock Up”, a soaring closer with an anthemic chorus of “woahs”.
While Feel The Void
will likely hit the spot for most listeners with any taste for punk-ish music, it’s really not the logical place to start for those new to Hot Water Music. The now-venerable band should be high on the list for punk fans who aren’t familiar with their work, but earlier efforts like No Division
should take precedence, as each is a notably stronger record. However, caveats aside, Feel The Void
is a pretty impressive album in its own right. Punk, and music more generally, might be a young person’s game, but nearly three decades in, Hot Water Music still know how to put out some damn good tunes. Play them loud.