Talkhouse Contributing Writer Zachary Lipez is the former singer for Freshkills and the current singer of Publicist UK. He writes the “Adult Problems” column for Noisey/VICE. He also contributes to Hazlitt, MySpace, and Vol.1 Brooklyn. His most recent book, with Nick Zinner and Stacey Wakefield, is Please Take Me Off the Guest List (Akashic Books, 2010). He tends bar at 124 Rabbit Club. You can follow him on Twitter here.
The love affair that hardcore has with itself is profound and all-encompassing. For hardcore, there are no other stars in the sky but hardcore. That’s why betrayal figures so heavily in hardcore’s lyrical concerns; without obstacles, can a love story truly be considered epic? What barriers are we breaking? The barriers that keep us from hardcore! What are we starting today? Being hardcore! How are we going to rise above? Through hardcore! What are we rising to become? More hardcore! Hardcore stands on its tippy-toes the better to kiss itself on the mouth. When the very excellent Japanese hardcore band Slang called their extremely excellent 2010 album Life Made Me Hardcore, they crystalized a wish for consummation that originated in the early ’80s when Agnostic Front and the Cro-Mags first locked eyes across a crowded room. Maybe hardcore loves itself too much but you can’t fault your friends for posting pictures of their babies when that baby is as beautiful as hardcore.
Hardcore boosters of hardcore, Turnstile is a Corona Groove Metal band from DC/Baltimore fronted by Zach De La Handsome, and they sound like what Helmet might have sounded like if Page Hamilton had never felt the need to namedrop Steve Reich and Beethoven in every interview. Turnstile loves hardcore like the band members’ sneakers depended on it. This is good and purity of heart is admirable, at least in theory, but what makes Turnstile worth my (your) time is that Turnstile is also a dance band. Like the Gap Band. They are far more concerned with locking into a pocket and staying there while their — did I already mention? — very handsome singer good-naturedly CIVs it up about not letting negativity shade your day rather than beating you over the head with how hard and how core they are. Jerks may compare them to 311 because they’re clearly not afraid of a lil’ processed guitar sound, but people can say all sorts of cruel things. Skeet Ulrich looks a lot like Johnny Depp but I’d still rather watch Scream on repeat than the latest Tim Burton affectation-abomination. Anyway, if an unpretentious Helmet who are also the baseball-hatted inheritors of “You Dropped a Bomb on Me” sounds bad to you; fair enough. If it sounds good; then you’re me. Hi, me, we should totally hang out and listen to Turnstile.
Turnstile’s new album is called Nonstop Feeling, which already puts it miles above and ahead of various more “serious” hardcore bands and their bleak dystopian album titles, like I Hate Everybody (Presumably Excepting All These People I’m Constantly Hanging Out With And Rubbing Up Against) and Too Many Pockets in My Shorts b/w Fuck a Shirt. Calling your album Nonstop Feeling immediately conjures up both Non-Stop Ecstatic Dancing (probably not intentional) and a freeing of the ass with the assumption that the rest will follow (possibly intentional, though I’m not privy to Turnstile’s DMs).
A hardcore dance band is an entirely noble thing to be. Setting aside the perfectly reasonable debate over whether or not running and jumping from a stage into a mass of middle-class sweatbags is, you know, an appropriately revolutionary use of youthful energy, we must all agree that, in 2015, mosh is as legit a dance as any. The ecstasy of movement cannot be confined to the Mashed Potato alone. Legions of baggy-pants boys and girls express themselves through the Lawnmower, the shoulder-tap, the crippler crossface, the creepy-crawl, the pile-on, the spin-kick, the jumping spin-kick, the floor-punch, and the always crucial ritualized Picking Up Of Change. Turnstile are clearly aficionados of the breakdown and all the dances that go with it. So devoted to the shaking of the proverbial rump are Turnstile that about half the album is either instrumental or Inside Out-esque grunts of encouragement or full-band backing vocal “ahhhh”s meant to accompany the electric slide from one end of the pit to the other. Everything is devoted to the throwing of elbows, even as the guitars of “B-rady” and Sean Coo shift and faze, and singer Brendan Yates sings sweetly generalized slogans of frustration or self-affirmation.
Lyrically, Turnstile gets the job done. No more, no less. I might wish that hardcore singers could brush up on their Phillip Larkin and/or Paul Bearer, but you can’t ask an apple to be an orange. Within the strict confines of Hardcore Aspirational Lyrics, Yates does a fine enough job. He doesn’t hate girls and he seems reasonably self-aware. I can’t help feeling that the subject of “Fazed Out” might have been better served over a nice text conversation rather than through screaming, but that’s hardcore; it often conflates betrayal with the normal endings of relationships. Turnstile, you’ll make other friends. A lot of the lyrics on Nonstop Feeling have a dashed-off, small-stakes feel to them. Especially compared with the apocalyptically depressive visions of some of their contemporaries. Having said that, we (rightly) praise other artists for their attention to the small and everyday (Galaxie 500 waiting in line to buy Twinkies, La Dispute’s divorce proceedings, Quicksand eating alone…). Hell, on reflection, post-hardcore generally revels in the quotidian, so to judge Turnstile too harshly for putting a GChat conversation into a song would be wrong. (I’ve just changed my own mind since the beginning of this paragraph.) The lyrics on “Fazed Out” are good. Also, the song “Blue By You” has been stuck in my head for weeks. It’s achingly romantic and, at 1:22 minutes, it’s exactly as long as a song should be. Once I perfect my time-machine, that shit is going on a lot of high-school mix-tapes. The song “Addicted,” however, with its refrain of “give it to me… break me off… fill me up,” makes me wonder if no one in the band has ever seen a cum-shot compilation video. But again, not to contradict myself midstream, if that’s the case, then good for them. Speaking of addiction, It should be noted that punx don’t much care for Turnstile. Punx like their refusal to move forward draped in studs and drug-abuse, not jerseys and recovery. Again, fair enough. But I like both kinds of pizza.
I feel like I’m burdening the kids (and unlike the eternal “kids” of many just-this-side-of-dead hardcore dudes, Turnstile is most assuredly young) with faint praise and backhanded compliments. This was not my intention when I set out. Hardcore, while still being the best genre of music besides jazz (in theory) makes me want to make jokes. But Turnstile shouldn’t suffer from my own petty and crapulent instincts; Turnstile is a good hardcore band. They make me, even as the years catch up and the lights grow dim, want to jump around and affectionately/aggressively rub the bald head of the Frigidaire. Look, it’s easy to mock a band like Turnstile. They’re earnest and unfashionable and clearly ambitious about reaching as wide an audience as they can. Not one of those qualities is a negative in my book. With Nonstop Feeling they’ve produced an admirable hardcore record, an ode to get up and go. If the final goal of the forward movement is more hardcore, then there are worse destinations. Even though the record is entirely devoted to boys getting positive and sweaty in the club, there’s a real sweetness to its energy. You don’t have to dance alone, kids of America, hardcore is in the corner, just waiting for you to ask.