One of the most conspicuous musical trends of 2021 has been quiet introspection. Across genres, artists have folded inward. Clairo relinquished the indie-pop of her 2019 debut in lieu of a softer style that evokes ‘70s singer/songwriters like Stevie Nicks. Vince Staples deserted his high-energy delivery (and producer Kenny Beats abandoned his frantic arrangements) for something more lo-fi and muted. Though records such as these are captivating in their own rights, it’s also interesting to hear artists go against that current. That’s exactly what the Baltimore-based hardcore band TURNSTILE have done on their latest album, GLOW ON.
With production from Mike Elizondo and co-production from TURNSTILE’s vocalist Brendan Yates, GLOW ON is the group’s most fully realized work yet. They use the full-throttle blueprint of their sterling sophomore album, 2018’s Time & Space, and expand upon it. Although TURNSTILE still employ chunky guitar riffs and punchy drums, there are plenty of new textures and ideas here, as well. “DON’T PLAY” features a reggaetón-esque drum pattern with syncopated auxiliary percussion; “UNDERWATER BOI” pitch-shifts Yates’ vocals into an eerie, supernatural register, and it even includes surprise guest vocals from indie artist Julien Baker; opening track “MYSTERY” begins with a wash of arpeggiated synthesizers before erupting into TURNSTILE’s trademark aggression.
This isn’t to say that TURNSTILE sound completely different, though. GLOW ON still contains the short bursts of intensity that encapsulate why this band is so gripping in the first place. “HUMANOID / SHAKE IT UP” is a fleeting, two-part adrenaline rush that may or may not be about quarantine: “Ain’t no other way around (locked down) / Now you’re in a lockdown (locked down).” “T.L.C. (TURNSTILE LOVE CONNECTION)” is a rapid-fire, double-time track that finds Yates aching for a greater connection (“I want to touch / A level up / Want more connection / And that’s enough”). But Yates’ lyrics are often not the focal point of this band’s appeal—rather, it’s his enthralling delivery, which ranges from strained melodicism to gravelly shouts, ties everything together.
To ensure that their formidable style doesn’t go stale, TURNSTILE contrast these short, energetic bursts with a handful of toned-down tracks. “UNDERWATER BOI,” which is also GLOW ON’s longest song, clocking in at three minutes, still uses hefty distortion, but not as copiously so, opting instead for clean, resonant timbres. “NO SURPRISE” is a brief, percussion-free interlude that provides a moment of reprieve from the barrage of noise. On “ALIEN LOVE CALL,” they adapt their sound to accommodate an unusual cameo from Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes, and it sounds effortless. There’s even a spoken-word section that would sound right at home on Blood Orange’s magnum opus, 2016’s Freetown Sound.
Hynes reciprocates the gesture by entering TURNSTILE’s world on “ENDLESS” and the closing track, “LONELY DEZIRES.” Hearing Hynes’ distinctive, silky vocals on top of TURNSTILE’s signature hardcore punk is pure joy, particularly on “ENDLESS,” a brisk track that breaks into double-time verses that sound designed for a circle pit. It doesn’t sound out of place, either. It’s a peculiar crossover, but both TURNSTILE and Blood Orange pull it off with aplomb.
GLOW ON puts TURNSTILE’s sheer amount of ambition on display, and they deliver on that ambition with a record that widens their scope. Throughout its 15 tracks, their newly expanded sound never falters, and it sees them toying with fresh effects and textures while still maintaining their forceful approach. At the same time, TURNSTILE move forward without losing sight of what made them so intriguing to begin with. GLOW ON isn’t just one of the best hardcore albums of the year; it’s one of the best albums of the year in general.
Grant Sharples is a writer based in Kansas City. He has contributed to MTV News, Pitchfork, Stereogum, The Ringer, SPIN and others. Follow him on Twitter @grantsharpies.