There are a number of bands I loved in high school that I still love today. Yes, some of them are still producing music—some of it even stellar—but there are few bands that can take me back audibly, olefactorily (probably made that word up) and emotionally to those days I spent crammed into tiny clubs in Southeastern Connecticut, screaming along to some of the most inspirational music of the time. Throw on Hot Water Music’s third full-length, No Division, and I’m right back inside the El-N-Gee. I can smell the sweat and cigarettes and see the awkwardness of teenagers trying to find a place in this crazy world.
Shockingly, Hot Water Music is still a very active band. While Mineral, The Promise Ring, American Football and others are reuniting amid a sickening emo revival, Hot Water Music looks on quietly from their tour bus—still working hard, still writing great music and still inspiring people across the globe. Their songs still pop with an overactive bass and a drummer that plays a punked up The Cars’ drummer, David Robinson’s style. At least for me, the culmination of my maturation and music was a head-on collision around 1999, the year the No Division came out.
The album deals with themes of anti-establishment, suicide, love and loss, social organization and hierarchies, an almost Durkheimian-like sense of alienation and alcoholism (to name a few)—and it all hits home. Every single raspy, stressed lyric becomes a dagger straight to your confused, developing heart. Musically, Hot Water Music took on elements of hardcore, hard rock, emo, punk, pop-punk and southern gospel. They are a band that cares very seriously about their musical production and far less about their appearance and cred. They even rocked beards back in the 90’s when it was not a cool look; for them, everything was always all about the music and the connection.
The album opens with a cheer—a call for Gainesville, Florida, to come together to fight racism and homophobia and move forward as a unified front; to take a modicum of power and give it to a voiceless population. It is, to say the least, inspiring. A perfect way to open an album that will certainly lead to late night, smoke-filled and alcohol-induced singalongs. What follows is “Free Radio Gainesville” which displays Hot Water Music’s signature active bass lines. “Our Own Way” is yet another inspirational call to arms with swapping vocals and painfully honest lyrics. “It’s Hard to Know” is a poppier number for the album but, true to the core of the band, retains a core element of angst and urgency.
As “At The End of a Gun” opens somberly, you’re hooked—you simply have to be part of this movement. (As Chris Wollard sings, “We are dying if we live alone.”) It’s a time and place for friendship and unusual bonds. The title track is exactly as it promises, a boisterous, fist-pumping dirge to the eradication of lines of separation. Then comes the gem, “Jet Set Ready”—a song that hits home every single time I hear it. In fact, I recently listened to this song on repeat for over one complete hour, a feat I am sure to repeat at some point in the future.
“Rooftops” is another gut-wrenching track, complete with beer-fueled singalongs crying for the world to pay attention. “Hit and Miss” offers jovial encouragement that we should never be brought down and should never, ever hurt each other—community is key. “Driving Home” was an emotionally draining song for any kid in high school to hear. The song deals with suicide—not as an abstract concept but rather the incredibly personal times at which we actually consider it an option. It also touches on the alienation that goes along with depression and the importance of reaching out to your friends and being there for one another. And this was long before tough-guy musicians opened up about such topics. The album then picks it up and ends with “In Song,” a real burner to lift your spirits.
So that’s that. No Division is an all-time album for me. It’s a uniquely personal feeling that culminates in maturation, time and place. I will never forget seeing them play my local club, ever forget being on my friends shoulders for the majority of the show. I will never, ever forget the electric emotion that permeated the club on that summer night in 1999. So, if you share that feeling, welcome aboard my communal train. I look forward to drinking beer and singing our hearts out while sweating all over each other. That’s what a lot of music is about—bringing people together. Hot Water Music certainly knows how to accomplish that. Simply put, No Division is one of the best.