Trapped Under Ice
To get the full picture of Turnstile we must start a few years before their formation in 2007, when singer Brendan Yates was just a drummer for Trapped Under Ice. To call TUI influential would be an understatement. In an era where melodic hardcore was dominant, they brought back a bit of heaviness that was missing in the genre. If there was any strain of melodicism, it was buried underneath the burly and driving rhythms of New York Hardcore. To this day we’re still feeling the reverberations of Stay Cold and Big Kiss Goodnight, so much so that listening to them is almost kind of quaint given how many modern bands are drawing from them.
It’s under this foundation that situates Yates going forward. While not as nearly as “tough guy”, Turnstile and TUI carry one familiar strain: make hardcore fun. At the end of the day this is dance music, so why bother taking yourself so seriously? It makes sense that vocalist Justice Tripp would make a similar turn as Yates in a couple of years, forming punk-pop project Angel Du$t.
Pressure To Succeed
There wasn’t much thought when Turnstile released their demo in 2010. Frontman Yates had some downtime in between tours for TUI and wanted to start a new project. Even if the group wasn’t aware of it at the time, it was apparent that Turnstile was onto something special. Behind what were ostensibly straightforward hardcore songs was a strong melodic core. They were able to craft subtle earworms without beating you down with a typical verse-chorus structure. Standout track “Death Grip” partially bears this out and is still a mainstay in the band’s setlist to this day.
Quickly following the 2010 demo comes Pressure To Succeed, which compiles all the band’s early material. You get a fuller picture of the group, showing that the five-minute demo wasn’t a fluke. The title track introduces some melodic flairs that become more pronounced on later material, hinting that their creative ambitions were always bigger than their peers. But just as important, Pressure To Succeed is the perfection of the modern hardcore form. It’s a benchmark that future bands should be weighed against going forward.
Step 2 Rhythm
Step 2 Rhythm shows the band in a state of transition, experimenting without drifting too far from the confines of what would be considered a Turnstile song. Opening track “7” is the clearest example, choosing to start the EP with an instrumental track. It’s not necessarily a novel move but it is a telling one, leaving breadcrumbs that they would pick up in a few years. To be compelling enough without the aid of vocals is in many ways a herculean feat and separates the good from the great. If you can hold my attention without vocals, I’m willing to follow you on whatever artistic detours you choose to take.
2015 was a bit of a dead zone for hardcore in retrospect. The modern scene that we take for granted now was still in a period of incubation. We were still a year away from the first Knocked Loose record coming out on Pure Noise. Fury had yet to reach a wider audience with the release of Paramount. Fiddlehead was just a quaint project with a lone EP. These are a couple of stray examples but best-of lists look sparse aside from the G.L.O.S.S. demo, with one release towering over the rest.
It’s under this context that makes Nonstop Feeling the imaginary bomb setting off for the scene, bringing together all the disparate ideas of early Turnstile and synthesizing them in 27 minutes. There are hardcore rippers (Gravity, Drop) that are some of the most groove-laden parts the band has written. The lyrics feel secondary, focusing on what makes more sense melodically than anything else.
But it’s the record eclecticism that makes this a standout record and tags them with the cliché phrase of genre-bending for the rest of their career. “Blue by You” is just a pop song. “Out of Rage” and “Fazed Out” recalls the post-hardcore that came out of New York in the ’90s, particularly Orange 9mm, whose sound hewed very close to the much-maligned nu-metal. Taking these sorts of chances comes with an added cost, mainly dissenters who may not view it as “real hardcore”, levying the claim that “they’re just the Red Hot Chili Peppers. These claims ultimately don’t matter, because Turnstile’s only artistic muse is what the members of the band would like to hear. And that philosophy would only become clearer and more defined in the records to follow, as evidenced by this Noisey headline from their 2018 article on the band: Turnstile Are Here to Save Hardcore, LMAO JK They Don’t Give a Shit
Move Thru Me
Out of all the material, Move Thru Me feels like the most inessential piece to understanding Turnstile. It’s mostly a throwaway release and I never feel compelled to return to it. If I want to hear more traditional hardcore fare, I can always listen to their earlier releases. This is not to say the songs are bad though. By 2016, Turnstile at its worst can make a decent-to-good hardcore song with relative ease. But after the explosion of Nonstop Feeling, a promo tape is inevitably going to feel a little disappointing. If we judge the EP as its own thing, it does succeed on all fronts. It gives fans a sneak peek without totally giving away the jump Turnstile is going to make when they sign to Roadrunner Records.
Time And Space
Instead of trying to one-up Nonstop Feeling, Turnstile took a different direction, dialing up the pop without losing their hardcore roots. There’s a more cohesive vision in Time and Space, resulting in a lot less whiplash for the listener. A song like “Generator” can thread hardcore and pop together in a way that shouldn’t work, but it does. “Moon” doesn’t sound nearly as out of place as “Blue By You” was an album earlier. Even the 24-second interstitial track “Bomb” does not feel like a throwaway thing.
In another era, Time and Space would be the divisive major-label debut. But now, you’re more likely to be applauded for striving for something new rather than retreading familiar ground. The jump to Roadrunner essentially allows the band to create a second act, both from an artistic and commercial sense, bringing in people beyond the insular hardcore world they originally sprung from.
Turnstile Love Connection
There is no ceiling to what Turnstile can do and Turnstile Love Connection is the latest proof. If there was a rulebook for how hardcore bands are supposed to operate, Turnstile shreds it to pieces, never bending towards convention. You can even look towards the buildup for what we now know is an incoming third record as an example. Instead of the typical rollout of trying to get placement on a publication, Turnstile is the driver, making announcements via billboards and premiering the music video/short film of the EP at a movie theater.
It of course helps that this is some of the catchiest and most accessible music the band has written to date, which isn’t meant as a diss. To make a full pivot towards rock after a decade is something to be admired. Most of the time this evolution cannot happen in the cycle of one band. Walter Schreifels could only make the music of Quicksand after the dissolution of Gorilla Biscuits; Ian MacKaye could only make the foundational emo text of Embrace once he ended Minor Threat. But somehow Turnstile circumvented this typical trajectory, becoming one of the first bands to evolve into post-hardcore mid-career.
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