After an absence of new material for eight years, Gainesville’s Hot Water Music has hit the ground running with their new album Exister. Although they have been in the “reunion phase” for the past two or so years, Exister serves as their formal proclamation of their relevance in the 2012 Punk Rock scene.
The album starts off with a bang with “Mainline”, a pounding rocker in which Chuck Ragan barks out his sharp melodies while the rest of the band compliments Chuck’s growl with soaring “whoahs” and consistent harmonies. I can’t help but think of the song “Remedy”, the kick off song to their 2002 album Caution, which had a very similar vibe. The album continues on with mid tempo Punk songs with soaring choruses that are predominantly sung by Ragan. While some songs are stronger than others, there is a certain level of consistency and stylistic resemblance between the tracks, which can either, be monotonous or rewarding (depending on how you look at it).
This leads to one of my major gripes with this album; there is absolutely nothing BAD about any of the songs on this album, but there are a number of ones that scrape by as “good” or “decent”. It almost seems like a waste of time to mention, but an album such as this (much like White Crosses by Against Me!) makes me miss the more raw production and intensity of their earlier recordings such as Fuel For The Hate Game. While I do think that Bill Stevenson did his always-great job of making a band sound as large as possible, I more so attribute this lack of emotional punch on the songs themselves. The track “Drag My Body” is one of the only songs off Exister that seem to somewhat hearken back to the band’s earlier days, with it’s intricate bass-lines and more unconventional drumbeat. By coupling this technical complexity with the soaring anthemic choruses attributed to their later albums, Hot Water Music packs an incredibly powerful punch that is emotional without sacrificing their innovative musical integrity.
I would never ask for a group of musicians to regress in their artistic progression, but it often seems on Exister that Hot Water Music has gotten comfortable in the box that they created for themselves. That being said, if Exister is indeed a later Hot Water Music-by-numbers album, than it is an album where they have perfected the style that they began to develop on 2001’s A Flight and a Crash. Now that Hot Water Music has returned, I can only hope that the follow up to Exister will be something a bit more innovative or artistically challenging, as they are so clearly capable of doing.