Alot of bands put out records that nail their coffins shut. They might put out records afterward that reclaim what they lost, but they can never get back to where they were. The new record is often a plea to an old formula they hope will win back the fanbase they lost.
Hot Water Music is different. When they put out a record, even at their worst, they are amazing. When "A flight and a crash" came out, their were some reactions to their signing to Epitaph. But unlike most bands, when reviews came back their was a hitch. I read alot of HWM fans who didn't particularly like "A flight and a crash". Yet at the same time, unlike most bands, these reviews also were clear about one point. That Hot water Music could put out a less than "perfect" album and still be considered a great record by its fanbase. They could put out a different record than the last and not be doomed by fan expectations. That the record may not have been their best did not doom them with a stigma or curse them with a slump. Even in a bad review, it was still considered a solid record. HWM fans still bought the album, it may not have been their favorite overall, but it was certain HWM hadn't lost any of their charge. It was a different record, thats all.
Confidence in the band remained, and "Caution" is the nail in someone's coffin, just not theirs.
You may know of another big time punk band whose album was named "Caution:", but HWM was so confident in their ability they didn't leave it with a colon. No no, they just leave it with a period. Their that sure it will knock you on your ass. Caution. Period. And their right.
After you get by the ever eye catching cover (a certain added bonus to every HWM release), The record's strength is by far in its consistency. Never falling to filler, or gaps in drive or energy. The record is much more coherent and complete than "A flight....", working as a full album above individual songs. It works on contradiction, the songs melding together in a similar build of passion and harmonics, while remaining utterly distinct and noticeable in their own right. They maintain a strong tempo while never slowing to a lull, but never being outright formula. Some of the songs released so far like "Remedy","Trusty Chords",and "Wayfarer" use pop elements in a rougher and more decieving way bringing the usual epitaph crowd into a false sense of pop security before hitting them with the real HWM the songs project, dense and intricate before they have the chance to second guess. And by then, HWM will already have won them over, their Sum 41 records soon an embarrasing phase.
The production is tight. The vocals are as crisp and more importantly intillegible than ever, while remaining gruff, tense, and yearning. The guitars and overall mix sounds denser than "A flight...." . The back up vocals, particularly in "Untitled" (my favorite song) and "I was on a mountain", pair off with the main vocals to produce perfect and haunting melodies invoking the cadence of tired 4 AM blue collar walks home. The breakdown in "One step to slip" recalls melancholy and urgency, rolling through the entire record. "Alright for now" starts with an ominously quiet bass line, before the vocals extend to the constant scrape of the guitar riff, until it leads to the thud of the chorus, "Im alright for now but i havent been, got lots of shit behind me", begging to be sung along to.
"Well say anything we want" starts with a fast drum beat over a quick shot of guitar chased with quiet, the drums still paced and the strained vocals beginning "Mr.Always want to sleep...". By then, if your not pounding your foot to the beat, you have no use of your lower nervous system, and I suggest if constrained to a chair, to use your index finger, or blink emphatically.
After the punkorama track "Wayfarer", it ends fittingly with "The End", the perfect mix of complimentary punk friction and post-whatyouwanttocallit progression.
Overall, the album feels alive and impulsive while never overstepping a sense of calculated restraint. It inspires an album spanning atmospheric quality while piercing any attempt at a sustained mood or pigeonholing any of the songs to redundancy with a visceral attack of impression within each song that can't be pinned down. Each songs individual definition contributes to a whole and unified great punk/emo/rock/bluegrass/hardcore/altcountry/jazz whatever you classify it as album.
I think no one will have to worry about Hot Water Music's future or viability for a long time to come. This record is kicking my ass, and has not left my CD player for two days, and only to bring it to my car stereo. The only thing better is if the vinyl has bonus tracks (where in I will rate this an 11), at which point all you will see is a Yosemite Sam styled Dissipating smoke outline of where my body used to be. If you are HWM fan, there is no disappointment coming your way. But after all, when was there?