Following a feeling in my heart
Even if it all just falls apart
When I hit a wall I got to:
Break in, break in
Those words are sung by Turnstile singer Brendan Yates from “ENDLESS” off the band’s triumphant, soon-to-be classic new album GLOW ON. An album about finding connection within the human race at a time where it seems more fractured than ever. It’s an album of affirmations. A dose of positivity from a hardcore band that could have easily leaned into the dark time.
My first time seeing Turnstile live was right after their 2013 EP Step 2 The Rhythm was released at a free House of Vans show in Brooklyn opening for a reformed Gorilla Biscuits and The Bouncing Souls. The hype preceded the Baltimore outfit, but I found myself not totally onboard with their 311-meets-Youth Crew sound. Regardless, their spritely energy onstage was undeniable and furthermore, the kids were going absolutely apeshit for their entire set.
I enjoyed both of their full-length releases since that show — 2016’s Non-Stop Feeling and even more, their 2018 Roadrunner Records debut, Time and Space. What made Time and Space so accessible—and down right infectious—was that there was a bright sheen and a major chord dew coating the production even in the album’s heaviest moments. There had been jokes around the time of Non-Stop Feeling, that Turnstile’s next phase in their evolution would be a full call-back to the early 2000’s rap-metal days with perhaps a new member providing scratches on the turntables. But Time and Space found maximalism in keeping things relatively lean.
The production was cleaned up with an attentive ear by Philly’s heavy-music guru Will Yip and the band delivered a batch of forward-thinking hardcore songs that looked past the rinse, wash, repeat formula of galloping fury into chugging breakdowns. There was a curious but welcome appearance by world conquering EDM pioneer Dilpo, and the band introduced interesting rhythm choices that kept them from retreading well-worn territory. But watching clips of Turnstile playing around this time brought a whole new appreciation for what the band was trying to achieve. Sure, the slower chugging riffs that the band is so masterful at conjure up days of Nü Metal past. But the way they would interlock in crushing syncopation with singer Brendan Yates conducting centerstage was simply mesmerizing to behold. It makes me want to walk on heads just thinking about the chorus of the opening track “Real Thing.”
If Time & Space was the breakthrough moment for the band, then this year’s follow up GLOW ON would be the record that would forever seal their judgement from the scene that birthed them. And boy, oh boy, did they deliver.
No fan ever really wants to place doubt in a band they enjoy when they are thrusted into the spotlight. But the “big records” by so many bands that came from trailblazing bands from the underground tend to always be met with some sort of asterisk. However with GLOW ON, Turnstile have capitalized on their momentum to deliver an album that does justice to the world of hardcore while providing a landing strip for mainstream rock radio fans. All are welcome within the Turnstile tent. There may as well be a big neon hype stick on each record proclaiming NO POSTURING OR COOL KIDS ALLOWED.
Ahead of the album’s release, Turnstile gave fans a couple previews on what they could expect from GLOW ON first, with the 11-minute short film Turnstile Love Connection which featured three of the album’s best singles—“HOLIDAY,” “MYSTERY,” and “TLC (Turnstile Love Connection)”, and the moody interlude “NO SURPRISE.” To throw off fans even more who were excited about this selection of barn-burners, the band also shared “ALIEN LOVE CALL,” a tender duet with Dev Hynes of Blood Orange with gorgeous chorus filled strummed out guitar chords that sounded more like Johnny Marr than Vinnie Stigma.
The 10-songs that round out the rest of the album glisten with the assuredness of Simba being anointed in sunlight at the beginning of The Lion King. That’s not to say that every choice they make on this record sticks the landing—the jangle-pop, quiet-loud moments on “UNDERWATER BOI” and “NEW HEART DESIGN” never truly feel like they fit naturally in the band’s wheelhouse, but they add a much change in dynamics to the record as a whole.
What is instantly noticeable on GLOW ON is how strong a vocalist Yates has become. Throughout the record, he locks onto pitch perfectly giving a vocal performance that is like a cross between H20’s Toby Morse and Band of Horses’ Ben Birdwell. This a compliment of course, as he stretches without becoming too sweet and is assertive without being too monolithic. Of course his overdriven yells are still there which recall the high pitched screams of Zach De La Roca or Ad Rock of The Beastie Boys in their hardcore days. The Rage Against The Machine comparisons are warranted but only without the unflinching politics. Musically, the groove forward riffs recall RATM’s first release—the song “DANCE OFF” even has an affected guitar solo that recalls Tom Morello’s lead in “Bullet in the Head.”
We are bound to see think-pieces on Turnstile in the next few months comparing them to another band who pushed the genre forward; the Swedish hardcore greats Refused. But where that band’s landmark 1998 album The Shape Of Punk To Come created a blueprint out of the hardcore they set out to dismantle, Turnstile’s innovations come from filtering what is happening in popular music through the lens of a tightly knit crew who happened to grow up in hardcore. Whether it’s the washes of synths that recall modern moody R&B of someone like Frank Ocean and programmed drums not foreign to pop radio, the band has pulled off a game changing balancing act in hardcore that few thought could be achieved: they’ve created an album that could be adored by purists but would not be shocking if it catapulted them to the position of headlining arenas or festivals in the future.
Towards the end of “TLC” —the album’s most hardcore song with a captial H—Yates shouts “BOOM, BOOM, BOOM” as the breakdown builds, before repeating the line “I want to thank you for letting me be myself, I want to thank you for letting me see myself.” It’s a line that he took from legendary musician Sly Stone from the classic song “thank you (falettinme be mice elf agin).” Much like the Family Stone, Turnstile are through with drawing lines. It’s time we all realize the healing and connective powers of music. Listening to GLOW ON is a pretty good place to start.