Many bands, young and hungry, ready to replace the established order, end up stumbling into innovation. They have the right ideas at just the right time and thus craft something new and exciting, something that shakes up the system, shocks and delights us–a splash of color bleeding through an otherwise mundane landscape of the tried and true. It’s difficult to capture lightning in a bottle twice, though. Raw creativity is hard to synthesize and mass produce with the same glister as what occurs in the natural chaos of the moment.
Many bands either burn out, sell out, or give up. Their music relies more and more on easy to write clichés and tired structures, or worse, tries to cater to contemporary audiences, thus abandoning their own originality and spirit in the process.
It amazes me that, after more than 20 years, Chuck Ragan, Chris Wollard, and crew maintain the same youthful charisma and melodic aggression that first put Hot Water Music on the punk rock map. Now, with their latest release, Light it Up, HWM prove their trusty chords and hoarse anthems still hold up in today’s musical landscape.
Songs such as “Hold Out,” Never Going Back,” and “High Class Catastrophe” would sound just as at home mixed into beloved early albums Fuel for the Hate Game or Forever And Counting, while still not sounding redundant today.
But don’t think Light it Up simply retreads the tried and true. Though the aforementioned tracks are plenty fast and fun, the album overall carries a softer, more melancholic vibe than prior releases. Granted, “softer” for this band is still plenty rough and ragged. Still, Ragan’s last 10-plus year career away from HWM, both as a touring folk musician and working with Brian Fallon of The Gaslight Anthem, have certainly brought a bluesier, more earthy feel to the band’s songwriting. It’s more akin to classic rock meets contemporary punk than their post-hardcore roots, though said roots remain evident.
Light it Up shows it is possible to grow and develop without sacrificing artistic integrity or abandoning one’s fan base. It proves, after two decades, the band still has plenty of fight left. Age has not dulled their teeth. Even after so long, there are still songs left to write, reasons to rage, and causes to fight for. As the album’s title track states, “the trick is just to light it up!”
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