Turnstile have been a little divisive as of late, spinning hardcore around until it’s dizzy and playing with its tenets in a masterful way. Since 2018’s Time & Space, it’s been hard to sense what they would go on to do next, but you knew it’d always be good. Enter GLOW ON, a sunny tribute to self that doesn’t shy away from those uncertainties and hardships while remaining gloriously upbeat and catchy throughout. I had to bring my pal Billie along for the ride – what follows is us dissecting and appreciating what is the best punk-adjacent album of the year so far.
David: Heeeeeeeeeey Billie, how are you doing?
Billie: I’m doing pretty good, pal. How about yourself?
D: I’m all right! It’s sunny over here in Colorado, which is a slight change from this past week so I’m choosing to enjoy it.
B: Right on man! We’re having pretty decent weather my corner of the Midwest as well. But more importantly, I’m feeling pretty good because we get to talk about such a cool album today.
D: Yesssssss, and to be honest I don’t even know where to start with it really. I’ve loved Turnstile for a long time, since Nonstop Feeling came out in 2016. Over the past few years, we’ve obviously seen the band evolve into something so much more than what they started as and it’s been nothing short of beautiful to say the least.
B: I feel very similarly, and I think that shows how absolutely unique this album is. I admittedly didn’t discover Turnstile until Time & Space, but it was one of my favorite albums of the year and I spent a lot of time with the band’s music since then. To say GLOW ON knocks it out of the park is an absolute understatement to me.
D: Time & Space was a great time to come in honestly. I remember reviewing it years ago and just being in awe of what they did and how they did it. Turnstile have really turned into a band that does pretty much whatever the hell they want, expectations be damned.
I know there’s people that really liked their first two albums and how they embodied that classical melodic hardcore punk sound, and I did too! I feel like they were made to be so much more than just another hardcore band though and GLOW ON just kind of cements it.
B: You hit the nail on the head with saying they are meant to be more than that. There’s nothing wrong with that classic hardcore punk sound, and Turnstile did it very well for a young band stepping into a long-established scene. Especially one that is so imposing and intimidating. But Time & Space was a strong indication that the band had a lot of ideas stirring that subverted the trappings of hardcore music, and GLOW ON feels like a culmination of that.
While there is still an energetic hardcore backbone that absolutely kicks ass, this is the album that has surprised me the most this year. Every single song, I found myself in eager anticipation for what they had up their sleeves next. Not a single time during it was I ever disappointed, either.
D: No, ever – same here. When I first put this album on, I feel like I knew what to expect, but was still surprised at just how far they committed to elements that go far beyond principled hardcore, and for the better! I want to make it clear that Turnstile are such a better band nowadays for pushing themselves. Singer Brendan Yates always said that this band was never meant to exist in a box and I think they’ve made that clear. I mean, they collab with Dev Hynes (Blood Orange) here on a few tracks – that’s not a traditionally punk move, but to me it is, and I’ll get into that later with some of the themes I noticed in GLOW ON.
B: We can talk more about it in a bit for sure, but I just want to stress how much I adore both tracks with Blood Orange. Listening to the singles before GLOW ON dropped, I could tell this was something that was going to be way different. Yet somehow, like you said, I still was blown away countless times.
“DON’T PLAY” jumping straight into a moombahton beat and then digging in with that slick Middle Eastern melody made my jaw drop. That whole song just took my expectations and set them aflame before my eyes.
D: Yes, I was going to bring that up about “DON’T PLAY”! Just little surprises like that that peppered a lot of the album. It’s a good nod to their roots in the DMV area as well. I think for me it was a deeper devotion to the more shoegazey, psychedelic aspects that made it for me. I don’t understand how you listen to a track like “UNDERWATER BOI” and not immediately feel at ease.
B: The gazey moments of this album have become my absolute favorite moments. I mentioned how I felt about the tracks with Blood Orange, and it is primarily because of the melodic and washed-out nature of them. But speaking of roots – as for the roots of Turnstile and the fans of their early albums, there is still a ton to be found in GLOW ON. It is very much so still a mosh-worthy album and it goes hard as hell with those classic, chunky hardcore riffs. The breakdown of “BLACKOUT” in particular makes me want to get violent.
D: It does, there’s some really mean riffs on here, and they’re so catchy all the time. The band really have a knack for writing and it’s only getting stronger and stronger. I love “MYSTERY”, I love “BLACKOUT”, “FLY AGAIN” is another standout in that regard. You know, people that really want those distorted guitar grooves and aggression will still find them here for sure, but there’s something that’s ultimately true about how Turnstile approaches hardcore with GLOW ON and that’s how tender it is, empathetic even.
B: I haven’t really made that connection with it myself, so I am curious to hear you explain that a bit further. It DOES make sense though, and “FLY AGAIN” is a good example of what I think you’re going for with that statement. To me, I think GLOW ON is a great indicator that music of any genre doesn’t have to exist in a box.
Your pull from Brendan Yates made me happy, because I was going to mention the same thing. Turnstile shows with GLOW ON that you can make a hardcore album, with many of the common tropes and feel present, and make it SO much more as well. I absolutely love Hundredth, but when they made their sound shift (which I love), they pretty much abandoned their roots. There are moments of this album that remind me of newer Hundredth songs, but then 30 seconds later a hardcore riff will spin kick you in your chest.
D: And you’ll love every second of it! I’m not a punk or hardcore expert by any means, but what I mean with my presentation and thematic assessment of GLOW ON is that Turnstile really approach hardcore (and everything else) with an understanding of themselves and others. It’s relatable. One of the clearer moments for me in this regard is on “MYSTERY” when Brendan sings,
‘There’s a clock in my head
Is it wrong, is it right?
I know you’re scared of running out of time
But I’m afraid too
And it’s been so long
Is all the mystery gone?‘
A lot of aspects of this album, at least in the lyrics, really touch on that feeling of being lost or maybe losing some sort of passion for life, or trying to reclaim it. It feels vulnerable. I don’t like connecting everything to the pandemic and being quarantined (though songs like “HUMANOID / SHAKE IT UP” seem to directly reference it), but it’s hard to not read some of these lyrics in that context.
“MYSTERY” stirs at the desire for life inside of you, “HOLIDAY” beckons you outside of your shell to escape the mundanity and celebrate, to ‘sail with no direction‘. Ultimately, I feel like GLOW ON is about the summer we should have gotten in 2021, but didn’t for various reasons. We were working towards a safe freedom all of 2020 and early 2021 and now with new variants of COVID, things being canceled and closed down again out of caution, it’s being put off again in some ways.
B: That’s a really great takeaway from the album and a really interesting way of looking at that all. I expect nothing less from your mind! I do agree that lyrically they seem to take a different approach than a lot of hardcore bands. I am also not by any means an expert on the genre, but most of the music I know from it has much different lyrical content. I’m used to the tough guy, Hatebreed kind of vibe, which is something that I’m not a huge fan of personally. I think Turnstile benefits from a generational shift since the hardcore bands of yesteryear; as late millennials like myself and Gen Z especially seem more willing to open up emotionally and express themselves.
Whatever the reasons are for anything that made GLOW ON sound so good, this is sitting at the top of my favorite albums from 2021 very handily right now. While recency bias is definitely a possible factor, this is one time I’m pretty confident it won’t effect my adoration of this album by a whole lot. This is pretty much guaranteed to end the year in my top 5 at least. Do you feel similarly passionate about GLOW ON?
D: There’s been so much good music this year, much of it I was lucky enough to review like this one, so I can’t commit to any top fivery like you, but it’s easily the best punk-influenced album I’ve heard so far. This is the kind of album I can show a lot of my friends already predisposed to punk or heavier rock stuff and know they’ll come away with at least a few tracks they like. “DANCE-OFF” is a sure crowd pleaser, “T.L.C.” for my fast pals, and “ALIEN LOVE CALL” for my slow-and-low gazers. I love it. I wake up with the melodies in my head sometimes, so I don’t see GLOW ON‘s appeal dying down for me any time soon.
B: I have committed albums to designated spots on my AOTY list before, and to be honest, most of the time they don’t quite end up there. As it’s near the end of the year, I feel a little more comfortable saying it about GLOW ON. But more than that, I really don’t think I’ve ever liked a hardcore or hardcore-adjacent album quite this much. It’s a giant breath of fresh air, not just to that scene, but to music in general. It’s incredibly refreshing to see a band throw caution to the wind and get so unique with their writing and to see it pay off so well. GLOW ON is a testament to the versatility of music and a great example of rigidity in genre trends being potentially detrimental to the quality of music.
D: I agree on pretty much all of that. I think when it comes down to it, it’s punk as fuck to recognize all that goes into us and be honest about it – our desires, our fears, what holds us back, and explore them in ways that feel real and almost therapeutic. It’s definitely invigorating. GLOW ON makes me feel young and free again, but maybe I’m just saying that because I don’t wanna admit that I’m the only one making myself feel like I’m not already young and free (you know, relatively speaking anyway). On “BLACKOUT”, Brendan sings ‘And if it makes you feel alive/Well, then I’m happy I provide‘ and I think that’s really sweet because I feel the same way about how I work and contribute to others in my life.
B: I agree with pretty much all of that! And I would like to add that it’s also punk as fuck to go against the grain and subvert expectations, which is what the culture was all about for YEARS. By that metric, I think GLOW ON is more punk than most other recent albums that claim to be. It’s made me feel some kind of way as well; I don’t think I’ve had so much fun singing/screaming along to an album in the car in a long time. Even sitting at home alone, I’ve danced and flailed around in a reckless and carefree way to GLOW ON. I don’t get into music in this way really ever, so it’s been a ton of fun to just let loose and really enjoy this album.
D: Exactly. That’s really important to experience, so all I can do is thank the Turnstile boys for giving us that. Amazing album.
I think I know the answer to this, but any complaints or things you didn’t vibe with on GLOW ON?
B: Yeah a huge thank you to the Turnstile crew for sure! The ONE complaint I have with GLOW ON is the fact that “NO SURPRISE” is only forty-five seconds long. It’s the only track I would consider kind of a throw-away, which is a shame because I really love the vibe of it. Most of the songs on GLOW ON are short, but it’s half the length of any other. At the very end it sounds like it could have done something really fun with the sudden build. It also doesn’t flow well directly into “LONELY DEZIRES” if that was its purpose. It’s a REALLY minor complaint, and it doesn’t take away my enjoyment of the album much at all.
D: I was actually going to bring up “NO SURPRISE” as well! At first listen or two of GLOW ON, I was disappointed in there being no track with Franz Lyons (bass) on lead vocals, but a more attentive listen (and watching the “TURNSTILE LOVE CONNECTION” mini-movie they put out as an EP in June) showed me that’s actually the Franz track! I too lament that it’s so short and think that Franz deserves his own full-length song, but hey, if what he’s doing is making him happy, then I’m cool with it.
B: I agree wholeheartedly. It certainly seems that Turnstile is happy doing what they are doing, and I am 110% here for it.
D: We should all strive to do the same. 🙂
I think that just about does it for me on GLOW ON. Any final thoughts, Billie?
B: I don’t think so! We covered all the bases pretty solidly I’d say. Definitely go listen to this album if you haven’t yet. I think there’s something to enjoy for just about anyone on it.
D: Agreed. GLOW ON, everybody!