The Return of HWM

There are very, very few punk bands that I listen to anymore. I don’t even find myself going to shows anymore, mostly because I don’t have the time or the extra money to drive two hours to Philly or NYC to see bands. That said, I was ecstatic when I learned months ago that one of my all-time favorite indie/punk bands, Hot Water Music, was going to release a new album, after eight long years. This is the band whose iconic flame and water logo is tattooed on my left arm. This is the band I drove to Atlanta for because it was one of the only reunion shows they played a few years ago, on New Years Eve.

I’ve always liked HWM because they’ve pushed the boundaries of what punk rock can be, especially on their first few albums released on No Idea Records.  For fans, the dueling vocal style of Chuck Ragan and Chris Wollard is unforgettable on those early LPs. HWM was also unique for injecting intricate guitar riffs and complex bass and drum patterns into their songs, as opposed to the boring power chord style of most punk bands.

The other day, the new HWM album, Exister, was delivered to my doorstep. I ripped open the box and placed the needle on the record. I’ll admit that I was nervous because like other fans, I had high expectations built up in my mind of what I wanted the album to sound like. Mostly, I wanted the band to return to its roots, to that distinct post-hardcore sound of the first few albums. Instead, the new album is similar to the band’s last few records released on Epitaph Records, one of the largest indie labels in the world. It is pure punk rock, fast and hard, with chugging power chords and roaring vocals. All of that said, I was just happy to hear this foursome churn out new music and a new album that is indeed packed with energy.

There are some tracks on the album, especially “State of Grace” and “Exister,” that will be staples at the band’s shows for years to come, if they decide to continue on and use this album as a refreshing new start to their long career.

I am sure some longtime fans will gripe the new album isn’t at all like the early LPs on No Idea Records. But why not just be happy HWM is back? They plan to do a full-blown tour, and it’s likely a lot of those old tracks will be in their setlists. I’m sure their shows will still be a stellar experience. I have never seen any band bring the energy that HWM brings to a live setting. Fans erupt into sing-alongs to every single song in the setlist. I look forward to seeing them play to packed clubs yet again, this time with a proper new album to showcase.

Return of HWM

One of my all-time favorite bands, Hot Water Music, has reunited (again) to release new music and hopefully launch a proper tour. HWM has always fascinated me because I’ve always found them to be one of the more interesting bands in the punk rock/post-hardcore genre circa late 1990s/early 2000s. What makes them especially unique is the fact they have two vocalists, Chuck Ragan and Chris Wollard, which has always created some pretty awesome dueling vocal parts in their songs. They also stand out because of their rhythm section. Bassist Jason black and drummer George Rebelo grew up studying jazz music, so they add  technicality and intricacy to the music that most bands in their genre lack.

A few years ago, the band played a series of one-off reunion shows, and I had a chance to catch them in New Jersey and Atlanta. I have NEVER seen a crowd so into a band before. As soon as the first power chord blasted through the speakers, the crowd surged forward and sang along to every song throughout the show. But after those reunion shows, the band never released any proper new music, and even after I interviewed Wollard and Ragan for a music zine I ran at the time, I was still skeptical they’d release a proper full-length album again and do a tour, despite their promises about new HWM material.  The guys were also busy with their own new projects. Chuck Ragan has a successful solo career now, and Chris Wollard has a new band-Chris Wollard and the Ship Thieves. Both acts stray far from the post-hardcore roots of HWM. Chuck Ragan’s solo act is built on the folk revival movement, and the Ship Thieves is mellow rock ‘n roll/indie rock.

So when I found out the band was going to release a new album in 2012, I couldn’t wait to hear some new tracks. Luckily, the band has already released new tracks via a brand new 7-inch. The songs, “The Fire, the Steel, the Tread” and “Adds Up to Nothing,” are available via Itunes, and the physical release of the 7-inch is slated for September. I’m waiting to buy that, especially so I can marvel at the cover, which is done by Scott Sinclair, the same artist HWM has used for every single one of their album covers/7-inches.

Of course, some long-time fans will complain that the new album or the new 7-inch doesn’t sound like the tracks on No Division or Forever and Counting, or even some of the band’s later albums, like Caution, but so what?  I’m just happy to hear Chuck Ragan’s trademark raspy vocals over electric guitar again and to have new music from one of my all-time favorite bands of the genre. That’s enough to be thankful for.