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Turnstile’s GLOW ON Is a Life Affirming Love Affair with Modernity

Rick Sunday

Turnstile Glow On Album Review

Turnstile GLOW ON Album Review

There’s a pulsing psychedelic energy that currently exists across the globe. Do you feel it? It’s that hint of strangeness you get in your psyche while getting lost in the deep blackness of your coffee every morning. What is a blockchain? Is Jeff Bezos going to space today? Why the fuck is Kanye West having lunch with the former president’s crooked lawyer while wearing a Michael Myers mask? Each day, we roll into the next. Our brains go straight into our phones and straight into the internet and straight into each other. You’re a cyborg. She’s a cyborg. He’s a cyborg. It’s hip to be half-computer. Or something like that.

The point is that being alive in 2021 is a wildly thrilling and extraordinary experience — who the fuck knows what’s gonna happen tomorrow, maaan — and within this amoebic bullseye of psychedelia sits Turnstile, a band from Baltimore that’s spent the last decade making music that aligns well with this bizzare feeling of fleetingness. The quintet successfully reflects that understanding of the moment with their new LP GLOW ON via Roadrunner Records, their fourth full-length release. A flat out great album, it is the best of their career, and one that provides answers and escapes in the evolving existence of modernity. It rips, too.

The hyper-acceleration of our collective consciousness as we attempt to make sense of, you know, all of this, is an extremely challenging space in which musicians continue to create art. Yet in this sprawling and kinetic world, Turnstile endure — keeping their head down while unafraid of embracing the chaos. What gives them this freedom of sound? Is it because they’re kids? Maybe, but frontman and primary songwriter Brandon Yates is 29 years old. That’s not quite kid stuff. Yet this prevailing youthful sound remains childlike through an almost mythical question: How can one create art that achieves something of value in the confusing in-between, that dissociated place of human consciousness that exists everywhere and nowhere at the same time? Good art reflects its moment in history. Great art does that, and then questions it, and then questions itself, somehow without being up its own ass.

GLOW ON is the latter in its approach, or at least gives a valiant and noble attempt. It does it through its energy. The album — clocking in at 15 tracks that breezily fly over about a half an hour — isn’t immensely complicated. After all, this is hardcore. It’s a known formula, and one that always works. Riffs + Grooves = Rippers. But don’t mistake the simplicity for a lack of depth. GLOW ON elegantly walks through a heavy world dominated by high peaks and deep valleys, cutting through bullshit and offering introspective lyrics that feel very good to scream. And we mean it when we say heavy.

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The feeling of Turnstile’s perceived forefathers is across the record. The frequent comparisons (and trust us, they are frequent) to 311, Incubus, hell, even Rage Against the Machine do indeed carry some weight, even though it’s a laughable concept to call those bands true hardcore. The point is that there is a nostalgic tinge to GLOW ON that feels particularly Y2K, a time when the label “alternative rock” didn’t mean much beyond “heavy guitars with some cool effects.” But this is not a detriment to the record, because it’s not weighing itself down trying to be anything that it’s not. In an era that’s constantly looking for its next memory to reproduce as a “remember when…”, Turnstile chooses their moments of looking back carefully — so carefully that nostalgia clearly isn’t the goal at all. Yeah, this might remind you of some music you listened to once upon a time. But Turnstile in this form could not exist in any time period other than 2021. Produced by famed Mike Elizondo, one of the most prominent pop music producers of the last few decades (the guy has done everything from 50 Cent to Eminem to Avenged Sevenfold), GLOW ON could be viewed as an attempt from Turnstile to launch into pop rock stardom. If that’s the goal of the band, it’s not evident.

At its core, GLOW ON isn’t really trying to do much more than exist — exist loudly and exist boldly. Here therein lies its brilliance. Yes, there are some winks to the band’s reputation (“You really gotta see it live to get it,” sings bassist Franz Lyons on “No Surprise,” a clear reference to the band’s notorious live reputation), and yes, inviting Dev Hynes of Blood Orange to collaborate and create a spaced out, dreamy hardcore floating sound on a couple tracks (“ALIEN LOVE CALL,” “LONELY DEZIRES”) might give the appearance that you are Trying To Do Art. But these gimmicks are self-edited well. Appearances are meant to deceive and the result isn’t anything but extremely energetic and exciting music driven by the human desire to capture what it feels like at that moment you’re screaming at the top of your lungs. In a world of constant performance, these songs feel the opposite of pretentious, a collection of exhilarating moments that do nothing more than attempt to ride their own energy. Their reckless spirit is one that wants to be chased. Press down on the gas, and then press harder. It’s time to jump.

“If it makes you feel alive,” Yates yelps on “Blackout,” “Well, then I’m happy to provide!” These guys don’t care that they’ve been deemed the saviors of hardcore. They also don’t care that music publications struggle to define hardcore in general, and therefore can’t figure out what genre to label them. Their priority is one thing: capturing the moment, and playing a sweet riff into a groovy sunset. There’s no subtle goal here; they quite literally make music with the caps lock on. That bleeding heart spirit that’s concerned with nothing and everything is what makes this music so appealing. A pure display of earnestness and desire to live to the fullest. GLOW ON wants you to not worry and feel alive, as best as you can, in spite of, once again, all of this.

For the record though, you do gotta see ‘em live. It’s just one of those things.

Turnstile – GLOW ON Track by Track Review

1. Mystery

Length: 2:35

The album pops off from the beginning. Turnstile have always created big and bold records — but the energy that hits you with “Mystery” is an immediate welcome to destruction.

2. Blackout

Length: 2:53

With “Blackout,” you can practically hear the mosh pit.

3. Don’t Play

Length: 2:13

Turnstile play fast and strong, and “Don’t Play” is one of the most dominant songs they’ve ever recorded.

4. Underwater Boi

Length: 3:04

These guys are funny, too. “Underwater Boi” slows everything down, and you feel like you’re floating — lost in time and space, muted from reality. These guys don’t just yell and this track is a great illustration of their musicianship.

5. Holiday

Length: 2:52

Another anthem for the mosh pit.

6. Humanoid / Shake It Up

Length: 1:09

Turnstile can be at their best when they play heavy. This short burst of swagger is a prime example.

7. Endless

Length: 1:58

Turnstile dives in with this one: “Brain is in the clouds / shot down every time I come around and try to get it off the ground.” Getting introspective in the pit.

8. Fly Again

Length: 2:31

Another show of musicianship, “Fly Again” carries the weight of reflection, looking at the past and wondering about regrets.

9. Alien Love Call

Length: 2:56

The spaced out, dreamy hardcore of “Alien Love Call” floats along with the help of Dev Hynes of Blood Orange. It’s a nice moment of meditation among the controlled chaos.

10. Wild World

Length: 2:54

A song that lives up to its title.

11. Dance-Off

Length: 2:09

Turnstile on the dance floor? Not a bad idea, honestly. And another example of the band’s diversity within the genre.

12. New Heart Design

Length: 2:27

Strangely, the guitars on this song recall bands like The Strokes — not really a common comparison for the hardcore world — and it works. The heaviness blended with scratchy guitars makes for a vibrant and innovative sound.

13. T.L.C. (Turnstile Love Connection)

Length: 1:42

An anthem for the heads.

14. No Surprise

Length: 0:45

One of the coolest moments on the record, a floating interlude that quietly comments on the band’s critiques.

15. Lonely Dezires

Length: 2:43

Another song featuring Dev Hynes, this one is more upbeat and in the vein of traditional Turnstile, but with an otherworldly twist before fading out. Lost in a wonderful haze.

Rick Sunday

Rick Sunday

Rick Sunday is a writer and a traveler who’s been writing professionally about music and culture for over a decade. His creative work has appeared in a variety of publications of note, exploring the strange while finding inspiration in the in-between. He loves driving. He loves talking to strangers. And he loves the Grateful Dead. In his spare time, he writes a newsletter called COOL MUSIC, a semi-regular outlet for experimental writing, photography, and playlists.

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