On their past two records, Baltimore, Maryland hardcore punk band Turnstile incorporated pop sensibilities into their style of East Coast hardcore. They did it haphazardly on 2016’s Nonstop Feeling and in a more measured fashion on 2018’s Time & Space. Turnstile fiddled with these catchier sounds while playing the expectedly chunky guitar and drum parts that come with playing punk.
Sometimes, punk bands are obligated to repeatedly play the same style of music, which can be tiresome and uninspired. But punk is about breaking boundaries, and Turnstile have done this on Glow On, released through Roadrunner Records, by seamlessly blending pop hooks and romantic guitars with hardcore punk in a way that isn’t pretentious or bombastic. It’s refreshingly authentic.
First and foremost, this is a very danceable record, which may be evident with song titles like “DANCE-OFF” and “HUMANOID / SHAKE IT UP.” Still, it may be less obvious to think that a hardcore band wants listeners to dance rather than mosh. “UNDERWATER BOI” and “NEW HEART DESIGN” feature midtempo drumming and swimming guitars that go into pop-punk palm-muted chords. These songs sound like they’re explicitly composed for pool parties.
But even heavier songs like “HOLIDAY” include subtly danceable elements. The hand clap sounds that spark over the drums are a playful touch. Likewise, “BLACKOUT” features drum tones that sound like they’re pulled out of a skateboarding video game. Slight percussive sounds like these — as well as arpeggiating bassline — seem to grab your arms and swing you around.
Glow On is more vocally driven than their previous releases. Frontman Brendan Yates stepped up his style of moving between singing and shouting. Often falling along the same line as Dexter Holland of the Offspring, Yates delivers passionate melodies without being an impressive singer. There are moments when he moves his voice up and down, using it as an instrument rather than the voice of a rockstar. His melodies float over beefy guitar work on “FLY AGAIN” and “MYSTERY”. The vocal tracks are laced with delay effects throughout the album, giving it that hazy, sundazed feeling that you might get at a music festival. Yates also occasionally employs his signature rap shouting, which has become a staple of Turnstile’s music.
Turnstile’s other most distinguishing factor is their breakdowns. The group have been delivering striking breakdowns in their ten years as a band. Songs like “DON’T PLAY” and “WILD WRLD” feature plenty of heavyset guitars that unleash eventful energy. Moments like these — as well as the chugging guitars on “T.L.C. (TURNSTILE LOVE SONG)” — show Turnstile as a band that will never uproot themselves as a hardcore act.
That said, they certainly enjoy exploring and incorporating new sounds into their music. The sparkling, dreamlike sounds on “ALIEN LOVE CALL” and “LONELY DEZIRES” — courtesy of Blood Orange, who appears on both songs — overtly set this album apart from their previous releases. Dreamy, synthy sounds occur throughout Glow On, giving it a spacious, peaceful tone.
That’s why Glow On is difficult to categorize. It’s hardcore, but it isn’t. It’s pop but maybe too heavy for pop enthusiasts. Truthfully, it is every genre that it mingles with and pursues. The most impressive aspect about Glow On is how cohesive it is. It incorporates musical styles that don’t typically exist together and makes them fit together without clashing. Better yet, Turnstile don’t seem to use these to cater to a specific audience. Instead, they seem to come from a place of authenticity. The band wear their punk badge with pride, but they aren’t weighed down and shackled by the expectations that go along with punk, which allows them to experiment.
They could have easily made a straightforward hardcore album, playing it safe and comfortable, but that would have probably been boring for them. Turnstile has released a good amount of music in the ten years that they’ve been recording artists. If they keep doing what they’re doing, they’ll be around for as long as AFI, another band with roots in hardcore that have made drastic shifts in their approach to music. Turnstile may not become mainstream rockstars. They seem too humble for that. However, they will get more attention, gain new listeners, and may be able to take advantage of rock music’s current increase in popularity.