Hot Water Music – ‘Vows’

By Katherine Allvey

There are some phrases which instantly make you nervous when an artist describes their new release, such as “concept album” or “recent divorce.” “Looking back and reflecting on our past” is definitely on the list too, but thankfully long-standing punks Hot Water Music have resisted the temptation to take their introspective impulses and turn them into mush. What’s emerged on ‘Vows’, their tenth release, is the kind of clarity which can only come from three decades plus of treading the melodic tightrope above breakups, reformations and living honestly. 

One thing that Hot Water Music have learned over the years is that they get by with a little help from their friends, and their many celebrity mates add more than a few unexpected twists to Ragan and Co’s sound. Dallas Green – AKA City and Colour, AKA Mr Alexisonfire – takes the lead on ‘After the Impossible’, tapping into Hot Water Music frontman Chuck Ragan’s most epic impulses to produce a track that’s simultaneously deep and soaring. Thrice’s cameo on ‘Fences’ give you more than enough “whoah” and chunky bass to satisfy all your expectations of a Hot Water Music release, and Calling Hours’ appearance on ‘Wildfire’ adds a much needed bite.

Here’s some more good news; if you had a wholesome collaboration between Hot Water Music and ska-punk’s most co-ordinated and fiery band on your musical predictions for this year, then you can cross it off. The Interrupters play it very straight in their guest slot on ‘Much Love’, sacrificing their desire to shout “pick it up” to create a stunning sunrise of a track, rich in harmony and friendship, that almost feels spiritual in its sincerity. It’s not what you’d expect from either band, much less the outcome of their teamwork, and it’s all the more refreshing for that.

Even their pure band tracks without their buddies, Hot Water Music still shine. Lead single ‘Side Of The Road’ serves up that mixture of struggle, grit and bass that we’ve always loved about the band, and their continued policy of sharing lead vocal duties just pushes the theme of fraternal solidarity in the face of adversity even closer to the forefront of their sound. Hot Water Music aren’t young men any more, having dealt with their share of adversity along the road, and ‘Burn Forever’ deals with the reality of processing grief. It’s a pleasantly understated track, almost matter-of-fact in how it addresses loss, that keeps the rising hardcore anthem tone as a priority. 

The emotional honesty which has always characterised their music is as strong as ever on ‘Vows’. ‘Menace’, their song about coping with anger, is lyrically open and pleasantly straightforward. It’s this refreshingly direct quality which has always made Hot Water Music winners. Sure, some bands might offer complex and poetic musical puzzles to make a point about their feelings, and that’s definitely fun, but that’s not what attracts us to Hot Water Music. They’re the big brothers we wish we had, their words full of no-nonsense advice and lessons learned from the road. As we’ve grown, they’ve held onto this position as ever-so-slightly wiser and cooler than we are and let their sound progress while they maintain this status. 

This could easily be the last Hot Water Music album. After all, they’ve split up twice before in 1998 and 2006. If ‘Vows’ does prove to be their swan song, then this album is a deeply comforting statement to finish on that grinds despair with hope then scatters the resulting powder on the next generation of insecure hardcore kids. Of course, all signs point to this not being their final album. Ragan is balancing his role as professional mountain man and punk rock prophet with his tenure in Hot Water Music, all five members seem to be getting on very well together and they’ve got a European tour booked for this autumn. Instead, let’s choose to see ‘Vows’ as a moment of pause that everyone’s favourite Floridians have taken to take stock of their lives. It’s a record rich in guitar joy and the power of being true to yourself, and another solid chapter in the Hot Water Music saga. 

KATE ALLVEY

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