Album Review: Turnstile – GLOW ON

[Roadrunner; 2021]

Baltimore’s beloved Turnstile brandish bright, breezy punk simplicity rather than the dark and visceral trenches where many post-punk (and other hardcore acts) like to dwell these days. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with indulging the deep and drab, but sometimes, an unrestrained and simplistic bludgeoning is all you need to exorcise those pent-up frustrations. As simultaneous purveyors and subverters of the hardcore genre for over a decade now, Turnstile continue to excel within an unrestrained and innocent punk sound. They rarely come across as juvenile, more often they’re charming, which has allowed Turnstile to become an increasingly admirable act with every new release. Their newest project, Glow On, furthers their chaste fury; and with it, they are bound to piss off some genre traditionalists – even more than they already have. 

With the band’s slapdash punk simplicity and without-a-care approach toward tradition, the ire they draw is just barely understandable. One user on the infamous RateYourMusic website referred to Turnstile’s 2018 album Time And Space as a pale imitation to New York hardcore from the 80s, and they weren’t entirely wrong. Still, very few bands will rekindle the kind of feral energy transmitted by the likes of Cro-Mags or Agnostic Front, if ever. The rowdy bunch understand who they are and have a specific vision for the music they want to make. So how can one not admire what Turnstile are doing? For the past decade, they’ve managed to remind people what made NYHC so vital in the first place, and have done it by remaining antagonistic towards tradition and pushing the genre into new sonic territory, all while sounding like they’re having a blast along the way. 

On paper, it’d appear impossible to mingle rabid NYHC elements and the heavy grooves of metalcore with the improbable niceties of indie-pop. Yet, that’s exactly what Turnstile accomplish with ease on Glow On. They’ve even managed to make Dev Hynes, aka Blood Orange, somehow sound like a seamless, longstanding member of their band, especially on the pop-punk reverie of “LONELY DEZIRES”. The album’s closing track isn’t necessarily punk in spirit, with frontperson Brendan Yates matching Dev’s airy vocals, which soothe amidst the track’s chaotic riffage. But it somehow fits comfortably within this funhouse of an album, which still shelters more traditionally aligned rippers and other incendiary moments. 

With a rising climax formed by a dramatically rumbling bassline and percolating percussion, “HOLIDAY” is bound to be a live staple that’ll catalyze swarming pits at every show. Possessing a drama-filled bridge and volatile breakdown, it’s easy to envision and salivate at the potential chaos this track will ignite when performed for ferocious fans. Though clocking in under two minutes in length, as is the case with most of these tracks, the rip-roaring “ENDLESS” and its rapidly-played guitar riffs will undoubtedly urge listeners to throw an elbow or two, wherever they find themselves: in the pit or even on the side of the freeway, ready to escalate a road rage incident.

Then there’s the highly flammable “T.L.C. (Turnstile Love Connection)”.  Slightly more complex but less organic and traditional in its components, “T.L.C.” is an energy drink shot directly into one’s main artery. In fact, it’ll inject enough adrenaline that ears will be buzzing, eyes dilated, and mouths frothing as Yates detonates the track with a thunderous “boom, boom, boom” call to arms. If you make it through the song without the need to catch your breath, then there’s something seriously wrong with you.

It is in these high-octane moments, among others, where the band’s purported hardcore label is made believable and even impressive. Of course, there will be those who continue to ding the band for their ‘derivative’ approach to the genre. But they’ll be missing the fact that Glow On establishes Turnstile more as a post-hardcore behemoth with a pop edge and an adept ear for melody, dazzling most when they become lost in their carefully crafted gossamer dreamscapes and dance-pop tendencies. When need be, Glow On is fast, aggressive, and sends a roundhouse kick to the face. However, they introduce enough experimentally dreamy moments and breathier spaces to keep this listening experience exciting and unexpected.

Dream-tinged cuts like “MYSTERY”, “UNDERWATER BOI”, and “ALIEN LOVE CALL”, which also features Hynes, illustrate the band’s refreshing and buoyant turn. By including fanciful flicks and synthetic swells heard on the pseudo-digital burner “MYSTERY”, or phosphorescent surf-rock guitar reverb on “UNDERWATER BOI”, Turnstile curate an experience that offers much more than its immediate bull rush of punk platitudes. And yet, these moments of pastel-hued levity will open the door to bad faith hardcore listeners who might insularly label Glow On as hardcore through the lens of someone who’d enjoy Clairo, Girl In Red, Cuco, and even Asap Rocky, among other faux alt-culture pillars. 

A close-minded view as such should be given some credence, as there is hope Glow On will act as an effectively sticky flytrap that will draw in these purported caricatures of Hypebeast fuckbois who base their personality on that overpriced outfit they got from Buffalo Exchange and the color Pantone pink. God willing, these culture vultures will be unsuspectingly attracted to Glow On‘s chaotic core, just to be baptized with excoriating playing and flying elbows. To this effect, Turnstile’s newly-polished dream-pop aesthetic will prove to be more tongue-in-cheek in its overt hues of pink than a grasp for clout by the band itself. It’s rare to use sound and style as a double-edged sword, in this manner, but Glow On will present itself to a new audience and virgin ears who have been previously hesitant to jump on the turning Turnstile wheel or even punk rock in general.

Turnstile have always shown their affinity for making songs that make your ears perk up, asses shake, and minds wander through sun-kissed clouds. Here, they’re just more refined and more vibrant than ever. Through Glow On‘s beautifully catchy hooks, spirited choruses, and cleanly-produced moments of pop, there’s no denying that Turnstile still sound like a time-warped car crash in slow motion. As is customary with any Turnstile project, they’ve managed to pace their listeners through sonic wreckage while being a little more daring in doing so. Synths, chipmunked vocals, and R&B flair don’t suggest this is the future of hardcore, but these elements do indicate that the genre’s future is more encompassing, and it will have this record to thank.