This article previously appeared on Crossfader
Genre: Hardcore Punk
Favorite Tracks: “Real Thing,” “Generator,” “Bomb,” “I Don’t Wanna be Blind, “Moon”
When I first listened to Turnstile, I thought, “Damn, these guys do Rage Against the Machine really well.” They’ve got the peripheral hip hop grooves, the unrelenting vocals, and totemic praise by the punks of today. But it would be unfair to just dismiss them as RATM mimics. For one, it was the rough, grimy streets of Baltimore, not of Los Angeles, that shaped their uproar. And two, lead singer Brendan Yates and company are more concerned in the daily vicissitudes of youth, not politics, putting them squarely among their more emotional progenitors like Embrace or Rites of Spring. They’ve got angst down pat. “But can I keep it all together / Waiting for the real thing?,” Yates contemplates on opener “Real Thing.” With content feeling a thousand years away, it’s a question constantly swirling around the minds of most kids and young adults. For all intents and purposes, Turnstile are the mouthpieces for the current generation of frustrated juveniles, but perhaps dabbling in topics outside their wheelhouse would’ve allowed them to be the mouthpieces for everybody on their first album in three years, TIME & SPACE.
Don’t get it twisted: Turnstile’s sticking to their guns is what’s made them such a prevailing force in the scene. They keep things straightforward, heavy as shit, and aren’t afraid to balm their edge with some of their more accessible influences (Hell, it’s no mistake they can tour alongside New Found Glory); that’s usually their biggest risk—tossing melodic vocal passages a la Dag Nasty into some crunching arrangements—and usually it pays off spectacularly. Check out “I Don’t Wanna Be Blind,” where Yates’s subdued vocalizing of, “I got something in the way / I’m losing hold on reality” bind with a sexy bass lead to embody a burning fuse, the calm before the storm. Then he explodes, “KNOCKED OUT / WHEN YOU’RE AROUND!”
They do continue to expand ever so slightly outside of their comfort zone, but it’s at their own steady pace. There’s the more airy pop spurts that show up on “Big Smile” and “Generator,” and there’s an electro-cosmic surge near the end of the Diplo-assisted “Right To Be.” It’s interesting that Will Yip, as main producer, didn’t completely turn Turnstile soft, as he has a pension for largely turning around band’s sounds i.e. Turnover or, most notoriously, Title Fight. With Turnstile, maybe that’s not possible. Yip’s hands-off here and it’s a good look. Even the weirder tracks sound mainly calculated by the band’s own discernment, like the moody jazz instrumental “Disco,” or the neo-soul “Bomb,” which features a wonderful Tanikka Charraé. She’s got an Erykah Badu-ian charm, sounding like something straight off her last mixtape, BUT YOU CAINT USE MY PHONE, especially with its gauzy keyboard and ping-ponging percussion in the back.
Like some of the best hardcore bands, you can hear everyone giving it there all in Turnstile. It’s something they’ve had since the beginning, and perhaps what’s largely attributed to their eminence. There’s not a single moment of slack across TIME & SPACE’s 25-minute runtime. Anytime Yates belts out, you can envision his veins bulging. Daniel Fang couldn’t have a more apt last name with his dynamo drumming devouring any and every space it can find. And he can switch from tempo to tempo seamlessly. It’s a cross between automatic and spiritual, letting something preternatural take over on tracks like “Come Back For More H.O.Y,” “(Lost Another) Piece of My World,” and “Big Smile.” And what’s Turnstile without Brady Ebert’s crunching, dense riffs that would make Dimebag Darrell proud. On “Can’t Get Away” they’re coupled with a militant bark in the midsection that’s just asking to be moshed to. In contrast, rhythm guitarist Pat McCrory proffers some of the more lithe, classic metal licks like on “Generator” and “High Pressure.” The latter actually sees the band hustling against a manic piano, and the effect just emphasizes their collective intensity.
But the most pleasant player here, for me at least, was bassist Franz Lyons, and that’s not just due to his delectable plucking. Not to discredit the versatile Yates, who can pull off placid just as well as he can stentorian, but it’s Lyons’s vocal contribution on “Moon” that renders it the album’s best song. His croon is soulful, vibrant, and sonorous. “Now there’s nothing I can do / Man up on the moon,” his peal suffused with an R&B bravado, sounding ever more desperate. Being his only lead vocal appearance here, I guess it could be seen as a testing of the waters, how the fans will react, before/if they decide to hand Lyons the reins again. To ensure its recurrence, I’m telling you, as a fan, it’s a total success.
Decisions like these speak to a higher potential. If they could translate it into their lyricism, they’d be more than just a hardcore punk band, they’d be firebrands. The title track nods to them and their fanbase: “I know we’re gonna blow / we’re gon’ walk you right into a wall.” Undeniably, they can vent and empower, but what’s behind this ferocity? What’s obstructing “the real thing” from arriving? I admire their apolitical stance, I admire their curt, unfussy words on youth anxiety and affliction, and sometimes less is more, but seeing that they are spearheading the modern punk movement, maybe it’s time they use this power to push other ideas, ones of a more socially-conscious sort. They show a boundary transcendence in their live shows and by the very nature of their racially diverse band. They’re carrying the torch of some of their most talented forebears, it’s just a matter of when they’re going to light a new fire.