Photo Credit: Jimmy Fontaine
Baltimore band Turnstile’s third album GLOW ON starts with what must be the biggest psych-out on a rock record in quite some time. The appropriately-titled opening cut “MYSTERY” begins with a lilting synth intro which lasts a little over twenty seconds before revealing the band’s true nature as the hardcore-punk outfit that they indeed are. Still, what we get then is an undeniably strong riff, and those prove to be in no short order throughout the album.
For much of GLOW ON, aspects of Turnstile will definitely remind listeners of other bands in the same genre: lead singer Brendan Yates often sounds quite a bit like the Offspring’s Bryan “Dexter” Holland, while “BLACKOUT” falls squarely into the realm of Fall Out Boy. However, the album is far from void of surprises: “DON’T PLAY” ends up revealing a surprise piano hook, while “WILD WRLD” (sic) is built around a salsa-type beat. Tracks like “HOLIDAY” and “HUMANOID / SHAKE IT UP” (the latter unrelated to the Cars song of the same name) are closer to straight-ahead classic punk.
Perhaps true to its title, by far the album’s most off-center track is “ALIEN LOVE CALL”, one of two collaborations here with rapper Blood Orange. Built around a slow, bluesy guitar (think the theme song from Better Call Saul), the rap performed here may put one in mind (in context) of early ’90s alternative hip-hop such as PM Dawn. “UNDERCOVER BOI” opens with a similar guitar approach before picking up the tempo to throw in more of a modern-radio sound that ultimately ends up competing with another hardcore-ish break. Although this works, in more than a few cases it can be said that Turnstile tries to cram a few too many elements into a single song.
On the subject of titles, late in the album, the band introduces a trio of very surprising song names: “DANCE OFF”, “NEW HEART DESIGN” and – get this – “T.L.C. (Turnstile Love Connection).” No, Turnstile did not suddenly have a werewolf-like transformation into a boy band: “DANCE OFF” is, in fact, centered around a classic rock-type riff, although “NEW HEART DESIGN” does revolve around what’s much closer to a dance beat, and is reminiscent of ’80s new wave bands like Duran Duran and the Fixx. “T.L.C.”, however, is definitely classic to-the-point, in-your-face punk (for all one minute and forty-two seconds of it).
It’s even more difficult to surmise what’s going on with “NO SURPRISE”, a forty-five-second track that features faint synths and vocals. We can only imagine it’s meant to be an ironic lead-in to the closing track, “LONELY DEZIRES” (sic) a subtle but effective way of closing the album which is mostly a solid guitar riff with another ’80s-style hook which also sees the return of those fluttery synths we heard at the beginning of the album (closing a record with musical references to previous tracks is always a clever notion).
All of the more ambitious and unexpected musical elements which surface through the album make it even more surprising that when taken as a whole entity, the album comes off as a fairly streamlined work, and when listening to GLOW ON start-to-finish, thirty-four minutes don’t go by quite as fast as one might expect. In commercial terms, at least fortunes have turned for Turnstile: after both their previous albums failed to chart, this one has made it into the US Top 30. Still, while fans of this specific musical genre may well enjoy a ride with Turnstile, most others will probably seek an alternative route.