Hot Water Music - Light It Up (Cover Artwork)

Hot Water Music

Light It Up (2017)

Rise


Sometimes I think that subtlety is an underrated value in punk rock. Everyone wants to rush to extremes, to be the most poppy band, the most hardcore, the most political, the most emo, and so on. The bands that refuse to move to any extreme often have to work harder and wait longer for appreciation, but if they continue to work at honing their craft, they can become legends. That’s where Hot Water Music find themselves on their eighth album in their nearly 25-year career. It’s the ninth if you want to count the 2006 project when Chuck Ragan left Hot Water Music and the remaining members adopted a new fourth member and renamed themselves The Draft, putting out one album before Ragan returned to reunite Hot Water Music, and even that album proved to be excellent. Their newest album, Light It Up finds the band self-producing for the first time since their first full length album Fuel for the Hate Game, and with only themselves at the musical helm they find themselves taking on new tones and styles in their work. But the changes, as always, are subtle.

After “Complicated” kicks it off with Hot Water Music’s signature style, the title track follows it and gives us an Against the Grain-era Bad Religion style tune. “Never Going Back” was released as the first single off the album a few months back, and I can understand why as it’s the best example on the album of the classic Hot Water Music style but with a shave, a nice suit, and a new pair of shoes. A lot of this album does feel slick like that, but it never feels overly pandering. “Rabbit Key” definitely wins the award for my favorite song title on the album, and the song itself reminds me of 90’s post-grunge/pop-rock. “Sympathizer” is a slow, dark, hard rocker that breaks down in the middle, then comes back together with this refrain so full of renewed hope that it just might make you see angels. “Bury Your Idols” stands out as, despite its morbid title, the shiniest and most upbeat Hot Water Music song since “Trusty Chords,” as Ragan sings about following your dreams without overly idolizing someone who came before you. The closing track, “Take You Away,” has a classic rock style that could have been turned into some sort of nationalistic Jeep commercial background music by a lesser songwriter, but Ragan obviously doesn’t go that way, with complex, cryptic lyrics that paint a beautiful picture without offering easy accessibility.

It doesn’t equal the quality of my all-time favorite Hot Water Music release, which is their 2002 split EP with Alkaline Trio, but Light It Up is easily my new favorite Hot Water Music LP, and that’s saying a lot. It’s an album that stretches to find new directions at a time when the band could easily rest on its laurels. Where 2012’s Exister was a confident return to form after a long absence, Light It Up explores all the possible things that this band can be without ever sounding for a second like they aren’t Hot Water Music.