From the moment they hit the ground a decade ago, TURNSTILE have never stopped moving forward—and they’re sure as hell not about to look back. The Baltimore band, comprised of singer Brendan Yates, guitarists Brady Ebert and Pat McCrory, bassist Franz Lyons, and drummer Daniel Fang, immediately distinguished themselves from the pack with their infectious, aggressive punk fusion; their welcoming, satisfying live shows; and most importantly, their willingness to experiment, as seen by the steady evolution from their early demos to 2018’s Roadrunner ambitious debut Time & Space, the latter of which earned renown from The New York Times, NPR, The FADER, and others. The only constant in the TURNSTILE universe, aside from love, is progression.
Having laid the foundations for their new album, GLOW ON, in the before times of summer 2019, the band took quarantine and the resultant tour cancellations as an opportunity to buckle down and devote their full and undivided attention to the album-making process. As Yates puts it, the stars aligned: “It turned off any potential for us to get distracted by traveling, and let us focus on these ideas we had.” Finding a studio housed inside a barn, tucked away in an isolated corner of rural Tennessee, only affirmed their aims: creating a self-contained universe of pure, united, unfiltered energy created entirely on their own terms, sustained as always by empathy and spirit.
If Time & Space marked the sound of TURNSTILE charting new ground for hardcore, expanding stylistic boundaries and celebrating new possibilities, then GLOW ON is that utopic vision fully realized; 15 tracks devoid of boundaries, only abundant imagination, heart, and grooves plucked from all corners of the musical spectrum. Hardcore remains the heart of TURNSTILE’s sound—songs like “BLACKOUT” and “T.L.C. (TURNSTILE LOVE CONNECTION)” are guaranteed to stir up that heavy energy—but it moves to a more alien pulse this time around, an incessant arrhythmia that consistently keeps you guessing minute to minute, track to track.
In this album’s mixtape-esque flow, each song offers its own unique, ephemeral take on sensory overload—and every listen brings something new. Less a song than a two-minute roller coaster ride, “DON’T PLAY” veers from a fast and manic intro to a top-heavy, ultra-rhythmic verse, followed by an anxious chorus draped in distorted vocal effects and pirouetting piano leads, and then back again. “FLY AGAIN” and “NEW HEART DESIGN” offset the band’s aggression with swathes of waterlogged new-wave guitars, which are played up for mournful effect on “UNDERWATER BOI” (a spiritual successor of sorts to “Blue by You,” off 2015’s Nonstop Feeling). And in yet another departure from hardcore norms, the band even link up with Blood Orange for two tracks, “ALIEN LOVE CALL” and “LONELY DEZIRES,” the band’s most melodic and soulful material to date.
Never before have TURNSTILE focused so intensely on the details—and clearly, it’s paid off with GLOW ON. “Working to figure out what you want from a song and how to capture it is always a huge learning experience.” says Yates, who co-produced the record alongside producer Mike Elizondo. “A live show environment shared with others, I think, is the true essence of the band and music; but when recording an album, you’re given a lot of opportunity. You want to breathe as much imagination into it as possible.”
Yates, like many songwriters, isn’t one for providing hard-and-fast interpretations of his lyrics, but he can agree to this: despite our best attempts to convey them through music and words, most emotions are just too complex to be summed up in a simple, digestible manner, least of all in a punk song. To that end, GLOW ON, with its free-wheeling approach and ambiguous lyrics, represents an attempt to subvert these roadblocks and embrace the human condition for what it is—a mess. “Humans are complex,” says Yates. “Feelings are complex. Sometimes, it’s hard to get those dimensions of feelings into songs.” Thus, rippers like “HOLIDAY” are built like Rorschach tests, the lyrics blurring the line between steadfast and somber. Depending on your perspective, the thought of “sailing with no direction” could be an untethered celebration, or the loneliest tale of a meaningless quest through life without purpose.
TURNSTILE aren’t seeking to provide any answers to life’s big questions, of course: at the end of the day, they’re here to spread love, and hopefully get you dancing. The band’s short film TURNSTILE LOVE CONNECTION (a companion piece to July’s EP of the same name, and by extension, GLOW ON Itself) underscores this mission again and again across its 11-minute runtime. The film begins with the band aimlessly roaming the grounds of a deserted stadium before transitioning to an extended, dreamlike sequence resembling a life cycle in their beloved hometown of Baltimore, starring their family and peers. We close with Yates riding on the back of a dirt bike, holding on for dear life, quiet bliss lighting up his face. The sound fades out as the pair speeds into the horizon, approaching the point of no return, or perhaps a new beginning. Of course, the end destination doesn’t matter; TURNSTILE have always been about the journey; roadmaps, itineraries, and speed limits be damned. We’re all immensely lucky to be along for the ride.
Photo credit Jimmy Fontaine