Release Date: May 15, 2012
Record Label: Rise Records
Review By: THOMAS NASSIFF
Hot Water Music is very much an essential pioneer of its genre. The band’s punk sound, with gruff vocals and dual guitars, is one that has been copied time and time again over the last decade, so having the Gainesville-native legends back for another round in the ring is a pretty big deal. Not only is another Hot Water Music album highly anticipated for its potential greatness, but with Exister, the band has the chance to either cement its all-time importance or paint a slight tarnish on its existing legend.
The album doesn’t really reach either of those extremes. In its debut for the Portland-based Rise Records, Chuck Ragan, Chris Wollard and Co. put on something of a clinic of punk rock, but certain tracks are clearly much better than others. The mid-tempo first single, “Drag My Body,” is a definite standout – Jason Black’s bassline is prominent and as good as old fans will remember, while George Rebelo’s drums also shine – but Ragan’s vocals glue this track together. “I’m hardly feeling human anymore / Enough to drag my body from the floor,” he sings in the chorus, the catchiness of the refrain grappling listeners’ attention away from the grittiness of the guitars. “Drag My Body” is a track that should frequent the best of hard rock and roll radio stations, and it’s deserving of such recognition.
The more aggressive, faster-paced songs are the choice cuts from Exister. Opener “Mainland” and probable future single “State of Grace” are blistering, while “Boy You’re Gonna Hurt Someone” and “Safety” don’t benefit from their slower tempos. The former is simply an awkward listen, and the latter gets dull at times. While the band should be given its kudos for churning out a 13-song effort instead of a phoned-in reunion records, Exister does drag on at times. The title track is another highlight, as the group’s veteran experience should provide younger bands with a reminder of the fundamentals of this genre – with the rhythm section still being the most dynamic and identifiable part of the group’s sound.
The record falters as listeners enter its second half, with “Take No Prisoners” and “The Traps” being the focus tracks from the B-side, but the energy is severely lacking. What younger bands lack in experience, they make up for in raw passion – and for this 21-year-old fan, Exister should ideally be a bit more energetic. However, that’s not the point here – Ragan and Wollard are far beyond writing songs about the anxiety and insecurity of the college-aged, and they should be. After all, we don’t want another Caution or The New What’s Next – we want the band to write what it wants to write. And Exister is just that – the exact record Hot Water Music wanted to come back for. It’s punk rock for the slightly older generation, as the young 20-somethings that attended HWM shows in 2003 are now late 20-somethings or young 30-somethings, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Most bands would be lucky to still be this tight after two decades together.