Sometimes two writers review the same album. For a different take on this record check out John-Michael Bond’s review here.
Recently, at the age of 27, I’ve felt like I have been in high school again. At The Drive-In are playing shows, and Refused are touring the US. Now, I have a new Hot Water Music album to digest. All these bands meant a lot to me when I was 19, and I could argue that all these bands calling it a day was an important aspect of my relationship with those bands (but that is an entirely different discussion). When Hot Water Music broke up, I was actually kind of excited to see what the members of the band would do outside the world of Hot Water Music. Chuck Ragan’s solo career never really struck a chord with me, and neither did The Draft or Chris Wollard And The Ship Thieves. So, on paper, I should be thoroughly excited to have a new Hot Water Music record. However, I am just not sure how a new Hot Water Music record exists in the music world eight years later.
Exister is, by all means, a fantastic album. “Mainline”, the opening track, sets a great tempo for the record, and it is nice to know that after an eight year absence, the guys in Hot Water Music never lost a chop. Ragan’s vocals are still as graveled and gutted as they ever were, perfectly complementing with Chris Wollard’s slightly less gruff and slightly more melodic vocal style. Jason Black is still the master of adding endless bass-noodling into straightforward punk songs, and by every stretch of the imagination Exister is on par with everything the band has done previously. You could tell me that the records title track was a re-recorded No Divison B-side, and I would certainly believe you. “Paid in Full” evokes the aggression and urgency that packs out Caution, and “Drag My Body” punches in and out of the sound that made up The New What Next, for better or for worse. In every way possible, Exister is a pleasure to listen to. It covers the entire breadth of Hot Water Music’s career, sticking to the formula the band crafted and perfected over their long, seminal career. And I guess that is why I have such a problem with it.
Exister does just that: it exists. I listened to it the day I received it, and hadn’t visited it again until I started writing this. The songs are great songs that remind me of all the reasons I loved Hot Water Music, but at the same time, how much more of this perfected Hot Water Music do we really need? Do we really need another reminder that Hot Water Music are the absolute best at what they do? The songs that make up Exister are great, but, at the same time, they are just more great Hot Water Music songs. There are quirks and nuances and subtle changes, but at the core, these are just more Hot Water Music songs. They are great songs, but the world is already stuffed with great Hot Water Music songs. Personally, my “great Hot Water Music Songs” bucket is over-flowing. I would be more excited about Exister and the guys in Hot Water Music if they were just doing something different. I know Chuck and Chris and Jason and George are great musicians, they have proven it time and time again. I’m just waiting to see what other great songs they can create outside the realm of another Hot Water Music record. This is one of those rare cases where a record is great, but doesn’t shine at all.
In short, Exister is totally remarkable but also entirely forgettable.