Hardcore for Nerds

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Dublin, Ireland. 27, history, politics & law graduate
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*from the title of a review of Arthur Koestler's Arrival and Departure by Michael Foot, Evening Standard, Nov. 26, 1943.
Mar 05

Hot Water Music - ‘Call It Trashing’ from A Flight and a Crash (2001)

Something react with a shake and a bang to resurrect a dead beat, rhythm of a slant and a pose of chivalry that’s far from its best, so over-rated, so bits and pieces, accelerated, and so deceiving … Wait, it’s all sounding the same. Rehashed beats and break downs, surround and take the diversity away and make it all feel stale and vacant. Wait, it’s all sounding the same. It’s all charades and shadows. Call it trashing”

My #1 favourite album and my favourite-sounding record. Oddly enough, it sounded impenetrable and ungraspable when I heard it first. I obviously liked something about it enough to stick with it, though, and when I read along to the lyrics it opened up the sound for me. I think it was one of the first albums where I started to hear bass guitar a separate sound within the songs, not just as intro - particularly since it has such a wonderful guttural quality here.

It all just seems to have such a perfect balance: as I hear it, the guitars chime with the high end of the drums and cymbals, the vocals are typically throaty but don’t overwhelm the mix and sit comfortably in the middle, while the bass rumbles alongside everything else. I guess that might have been the cause of my initial difficulty: everything being on the same level, so that it takes a bit of close listening to ‘unlock’ the sound and unfold its structure. The loudness can be a bit fatiguing - less so I think on vinyl, or through headphones with competing sounds? - but conversely if you can immerse yourself within it it becomes very rewarding. 

I can’t proselytise enough about the sound of this album and the quality of music in it, but the strange thing is that I think the follow-up, while having similar songs, sounds terrible. A Flight and a Crash was the first of three albums Hot Water Music released for Epitaph Records, all produced and recorded at Salad Days studios in Baltimore by Brian McTernanCaution has an extremely noticeable thin drum sound, that I’ve seen described as “plastic bucket syndrome”. It’s not completely absent from A Flight and a Crash, but it ruins the later album for me (or at least, although it has some very good songs on it, I rarely want to listen to it specifically). The New What Next has a similar enough drum sound too, but it matches it with quite compressed-sounding guitar so it adds to the experimental feel of that album, which works.

In the other direction, the album immediately preceding A Flight and a Crash is the Walter Schreifels-produced No Division which has a solid if unspectacular hardcore sound, with rolling drums and buzzing distortion, that perfectly suits the musical intent. Before that, the band recorded with Steve Heritage, a relationship which Eric Grubbs in his POST oral history of post-hardcore recounts as ending somewhat tensely with Forever and Counting - a record I always really liked the sound of it, so it surprised me that the band didn’t, although the explanation might be more to do with context:

"I just think it sounds like dogshit," [Jason] Black says. [Chris] Wollard insists the songs sounded great in the studio, but when they got the record, they didn’t like the way it sounded, especially with its limp bass sound. "To us, it sounds fuckin’ horrible, and it’s probably because of the bad taste in our mouth," Wollard says.

I think it definitely has some of the same thinness in the drums as Caution, and I guess consequently a lot of heaviness in the mid-range, but for me that always worked because of how stretched-out the album’s songs feel, particularly in the guitars. But go back to their classic Fuel For The Hate Game, and the balance of A Flight and a Crash re-emerges albeit with a lower sonic fidelity (everything fuzzes, and the bass, instead of a guttural rumble, sounds like it could almost be played on a keyboard - but that’s punk authenticity for ya). For a band that get criticised for sounding the same a lot, I hear a good deal of (admittedly subtle and probably interpretative on my part) variety in their discography.

(Source: Spotify)

hot water music Perfecting Sound Forever 00s post-hardcore 90s
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