Feeling nothing is easy. Routines are soothing. If work and screens and vague creature comforts fill up enough of your working hours, then those cycles begin to feel like natural rhythms. You end your day by zoning out in front of some Netflix thing enough times, and that just becomes the thing that you do. There’s a kind of safety in it, and that safety can be deadly. Over the past year and a half, when possibilities for catharsis waned and those routines took on a certain social-necessity weight, plenty of us felt ourselves falling into deep depressions, longing to see something outside of our tight apertures, wishing we could let some vivid chaos into our lives. Maybe I’m projecting here, but I think Turnstile’s new album Glow On, probably my favorite LP of 2021, is an urgent and visceral work about exactly that sense of longing.
On “TLC (Turnstile Love Connection),” the shortest and hardest song on an album full of short and hard songs, Brendan Yates bellows about what he needs: “I want to trust! Less loneliness! A little charm! A constant rush!” He means it. Turnstile never deal in irony; they always mean it.
For years, Turnstile have been a source of all those things that Yates names. Turnstile shows are utopian visions of communities coming together and losing their shit. The members of Turnstile commit themselves to that vision with total physical dedication. When I saw the band play the record-release show for their last album, 2018’s Time & Space, drummer Daniel Fang wore a hospital gown onstage — not as a stage outfit but because he’d just been in the hospital. Fang had gotten some kind of gnarly weightlifting injury, and a doctor had told him not to play the show. Fang fled the hospital room when the nurse changed his IV, and he drove himself to the show, briefly falling asleep at a stoplight on the way there. He wasn’t going to miss that show. The whole ritual was that urgent, that important.
That night, Turnstile played the best show I’ve seen in years. It was a special night, but Turnstile seem to be determined to make every show into a special night. That’s how they’re built. The members of Turnstile all grew up in hardcore; Brendan Yates wasn’t out of his teens when he started playing drums for Baltimore heroes Trapped Under Ice. Turnstile speak the musical language of hardcore — the big riffs, the shout-along hooks, the breakdowns where the song slows down and the pit goes crazy. They’re a hardcore band, and their vision of hardcore is vast and inclusive and overwhelmingly positive.
Turnstile are so positive, in fact, that they’re completely unafraid of goofiness. When Turnstile released their 2015 debut album Nonstop Feeling, I didn’t get it. Why did this band sound so much like 311? Was it a joke? Five years later, when 311’s Nick Hexum was covering the Nonstop Feeling song “Blue By You” and calling Turnstile his new favorite band on Instagram, I was fully on board. For Turnstile, 311’s staccato bounce is just one more cool thing, one more ingredient to use. There’s no stigma in being that, no embarrassment. Turnstile grab all sorts of things that other hardcore bands might consider cheesy: Gigantic Foo Fightersean alt-rock choruses, washes of chillwave atmosphere, synthetic dance beats. On Turnstile records, all those things line up with the color of their energy. All of them work.
Nonstop Feeling and Time & Space are big, fun, fearless albums, but Glow On is a vast leap forward in every way. Turnstile have done everything in their power to supercharge their sound, to make it bigger and cleaner and catchier, without ever compromising the reckless energy at their heart. There are weird little left turns all over Glow On: drum-machine beats, underwater-synthpop interludes, playful noise solos, cowbell-heavy classic-rock stomps. But all of it flows together as one grand, majestic half-hour burst of euphoria.
A few big-name collaborators chip in on Glow On. Dev Hynes sings on a few songs, and he co-wrote the big-statement single “Alien Love Call.” Julien Baker sings backup on another. A couple of members of Trapped Under Ice get co-writing credits: Sam Trapkin on one song, Justice Tripp on another. (These days, Tripp is off on his own post-genre vision quest with Angel Du$t, a band that also includes three members of Turnstile.) It’s fun to see all those names in the Glow On credits and to hear Turnstile adjust their styles to bring in these voices. But the biggest change is the presence of Mike Elizondo, the pop-music liner-note fixture who produced Glow On.
Mike Elizondo is a pro. Back when he was Dr. Dre’s protege, Elizondo co-wrote “In Da Club” and “Family Affair” and “The Real Slim Shady.” He produced records from Fiona Apple and Rilo Kiley and Maroon 5. He won a Grammy for working on a Switchfoot record. Thus far this year, Elizondo has worked on things like the Twenty One Pilots album and the soundtrack for In The Heights. Elizondo does not fuck around. He does not make basement music. He makes sleek, linear, hi-fi music. Over the years, Elizondo has produced relatively heavy rock records for bands like Mastodon and Avenged Sevenfold, but he’s never gotten near anyone like Turnstile before. Turnstile ventured out to Elizondo’s studio in middle-of-nowhere Tennessee, and they made an album as bright and clean and hooky as anything else in Elizondo’s deep discography.
The songs on Glow On are anthems. They’re grand, energetic, life-affirming bangers. From the moment that album opener “Mystery” goes from dream-sequence keyboards to its titanic, triumphant riff, it’s fucking on. Turnstile have polished and honed these songs, getting them to the point where even the experimental zigzags help push the momentum. There are valleys on Glow On, moments where Turnstile consciously allow the energy to dip, but they’re there for dynamic effect only, and they don’t last long. (The valleys tend to be catchy as hell, too.) Mostly, though, we’re swinging from peak to peak on a constant rush. All of Elizondo’s sharp production touches — a tambourine here, a bit of vocal echo there — help push that momentum.
That energy is the entire point. Glow On is a dizzy, exciting rock record about the pursuit of dizzy excitement. Yates never mentions the pandemic in his lyrics. He’s not really one for lyrical specificity; instead, he sings in broad, motivational aphorisms. But on Glow On, Yates mostly sings about the ferocious, eternal battle to beat back torpor and inertia and depression and frustration. I don’t know what Yates was thinking about when he wrote his lyrics, but I hear someone who’s been made to realize just how fleeting his moments of transcendence can be, someone who’s desperate to grab whatever moments he has left: “You know it won’t be long until the end/ Let the spotlight shine on me again!”
In the months before releasing Glow On, Turnstile have shared nearly half the songs on the album as singles, or as parts of the great Turnstile Love Connection EP. All of those early songs were thrilling little rides, but there’s something truly cathartic and inspiring in hearing all of them together — 15 songs in 35 minutes, hit after hit after hit. As an album, Glow On is fast and loud and physical, but it’s not exactly aggressive, and it’s never forbidding. Instead, it’s an invitation to come party, to lose yourself in the moment.
This past weekend, Turnstile played a free afternoon show at a bandshell in a Baltimore park, and it looked fun as hell. In the months ahead, Turnstile will play on a whole lot of other stages. They’ll headline hardcore shows with bands like Gulch and Ekulu and Never Ending Game and Buggin and Gag. They’ll play Slipknot’s metal festival in Iowa. They’ll serve as the only rock band on a big shed tour with $uicideboy$ and Chief Keef. Very few bands could bridge all of those gaps, but I’m guessing Turnstile will utterly destroy in any and all contexts. Before Glow On, Turnstile were already a truly special band, a ray of exploding energy. With this album, they’ve hit dizzy new heights, keeping themselves rooted in the communal feeling of hardcore while joyously disregarding anything as limiting as genre. They’ve made a classic. I can’t even imagine what they’ll do next.
Glow On is out 8/27 on Roadrunner Records.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Big Red Machine’s How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last?
• Halsey’s NIN-produced If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power
• Chvrches’ Screen Violence
• Chubby And The Gang’s The Mutt’s Nuts
• Indigo De Souza’s Any Shape You Take
• Madi Diaz’s History Of A Feeling
• Water From Your Eyes’ Structure
• Filth Is Eternal’s Love Is A Lie, Filth Is Eternal
• Fotocrime’s Heart Of Crime
• The Bug’s Fire
• Steve Gunn’s Other You
• Terence Blanchard’s Absence
• Nite Jewel’s No Sun
• Marisa Anderson and William Tyler’s Lost Futures
• Belly’s See You Next Wednesday
• GOAT’s Headsoup
• Men I Trust’s Untourable Album
• Space Afrika’s Honest Labour
• Torment & Glory’s We Left A Note With An Apology
• Teenage Bottlerocket’s Sick Sesh!
• The Bronx’s Bronx VI
• Danko Jones’ Power Trio
• Nelly’s Heartland
• Diane Warren’s The Cave Sessions Vol. 1
• Brian Setzer’s Gotta Have The Rumble
• Mouse Rat’s The Awesome Album
• Kat Von D’s Love Made Me Do It
• Judy Collins’ Live At The Town Hall, NYC