When Hot Water Music released 2002's Caution, I said that it was the best disc they had ever released. That was a true statement at the time, but it's no longer the case. I thought it would be hard to top a record the quality of Caution, but The New What Next lives up to its title in the ever-growing Hot Water Music catalogue. This is, without a doubt, the most compelling full-length the band has penned to date, and that's saying a lot, given their impressive discography of six full lengths and countless splits, 7-inches, and compilations. This is the type of album that only a seasoned band could make, as it shows a level of confidence and comfort with itself that can only come with time and experience.
The superb creation that is TNWN is not instantly apparent. This is not the kind of release that spoon feeds you one catchy sugary song after the next. In fact, after my initial listen, I wasn't really sure what my feeling was on the album as a whole. The one thing I quickly realized was that this is vastly different from anything HWM has done before. Whereas Caution was a very solid straight ahead punk rock record, TNWN is much more subtle and nuanced in its songwriting, and demands multiple listens in order for you to get all of its intricacies. It wasn't until I finally played this on a discman with headphones on that I got the full extent of TNWN. Some people might be originally taken aback by the slower pace that these most of these songs have, but I would go as far as to say that this slower nature allows the band's dynamic and versatile songwriting to really shine. Amongst these, my favorites are "All Heads Down," which has a really cool and quirky looping guitar riff, "The Ebb and Flow," a non-typical HWM song with a funky and almost danceable beat, and the anthems "Under Everything" and "Bottomless Seas," which both feature chunky guitars and choruses to kill for.
For fans of the band's faster material, fear not, as there are more than just a few rocking numbers to be found here. Songs like "Poison," "My Little Monkey Wrench," and "There Are Already Roses" are bound to get you moving with their energy. The explosive closing song, "Giver," includes a solo by The Pete from The Bouncing Souls, and has lyrics that tell you what HWM is all about: "Throw the rules away, trust your gut, and make it on your own." And throughout the entire record, the band keeps showing just how good they've become at crafting really solid melodies, with "The End of the Line" being the prime example. This is one of the best songs I've ever heard from them, and it all comes down to their absolute command of injecting melodic substance to the typical HWM grit.
Vocalists Chuck Ragan and Chris Wollard have come a long way and expanded their voices to do much more than just throaty gruffness, and have mastered the way to carry a melody. Likewise, Jason Black and George Rebelo continue to show why they're one of the tightest rhythm sections in all of punk rock. A very complete and impressive insert booklet (with the now classic HWM impressionistic artwork) rounds out this outstanding release. If the band continues to put out records of such a high quality, they should just keep releasing these forever. Very, very highly recommended.