With an almost stupifying degree of sophistication and refinement, HOT WATER MUSIC have made it painstakingly clear that "The New What Next" is a release that brillantly outshines the confines of punk rock. Similar to how a band like THE RAMONES or THE CLASH could be enjoyed by a broad worldwide audience that didn't play around with exclusionary tactics, HOT WATER MUSIC have reached the point where their hard-worn songwriting just oozes with universal rock appeal.
HOT WATER MUSIC possess a wonderful instinct for dropping irresistible guitar riffs and melodies into their songs, many of which become a defining quality. The opening, jumpy, guitar intro to the third song, "All Heads Down," is the kind of note string that sets one's ears in a perked condition. Much like BAD RELIGION's guitar intro to "Infected," "All Heads Down" builds its own legacy by attracting a force that few bands can create, and I guarantee you will be humming it at random for all eternity. The fifth track, "Under Everything," features HOT WATER MUSIC tinkering around with some tempo changes, drawing in some extra heaviness with a drained guitar crunch. With a looming chorus rising above the churning rhythm section, this song is destined to be a crowd pleaser for any set. "There Are Already Roses," the sixth track, is a fairly straight forward song, but its prowess lies in the flesh-wound lyrics that detail a personal coming apart in vivid, but terse passages. Rolling into the seventh song is the rouser, "Keep it Together," which should make anyone a believer that HOT WATER MUSIC have one of the most fluid, gripping rhythm sections around. Towards the latter third of this song, it's as if the band presses down on a level and seamlessly kicks into a stream of propulsion.
"The New What Next" retracts a bit on the eighth song, "The Ebb and Flow," which essentially mimics its title, holding back on tempo, and focuses on meandering guitars and dizzying atmospherics. This tune sits in stark contrast the dark, driving rock of the majority of HOT WATER MUSIC's songs, but its roominess pleasantly places an extra spotlight on the vocals, proving that such can hold their own without the beneift of a wall of noise cranking away. The building intro of the tenth track, "Ink and Lead," reminds me oddly of the TEXAS IS THE REASON song, "Back and to the Left," but that might just be wishful thinking. Regardless, this song, like "The Ebb and Flow" takes HOT WATER MUSIC firmly out of their past endeavors and into an area of songwriting that defines ordinary analysis. Simply put, I've yet to found the proper words to describe how great "Ink and Lead" finishes up. The final two songs to this release are as uneven as ever, but in perfect balance to the varied textures that have crawled all over "The New What Next." The eleventh tune, "This Early Grave," shifts towards garage-punk with an uptick in aggression that reminds me of THE HUMPERS, and the final track, "Giver" could be a rewritten BAD RELIGION anthem, coated deliciously with that thick throaty delivery that Chuck Ragan dishes out so well.
After six full-lengths (not including "Live at the Hardback") of consistently being ahead of the curve, and honestly, in their own domain, I can't help but wonder what kind of tricks HOT WATER MUSIC have in store after "The New What Next." I do not make such praise lightly. More than two years ago, at the end of my review of the band's "Caution," I noted, "HOT WATER MUSIC have upped the ante of what they are capable of," and again, I must reiterate the same conclusion, adding on my belief that this is one of the best albums of 2004.
Review by Jordan A. Baker