The return of Gainesville, FL’s Hot Water Music with Exister after an eight-year-hiatus presents an interesting perspective on the “reunion of beloved band” algebra. Yes, it’s “only” been eight years since the band’s last album, but as math tells us, eight years is the difference between being a 16-year-old kid and being a 24-year-old college graduate, between being a 27-year-old finding your bearings in the “real world” and being a 35-year-old with a family and the weight of the “real world” suddenly resting on your now-slouching shoulders. And then there’s the fact that HWM was never your typical punk band, but rather a beefy rock band with a spittle-flecked anger that reflected their roots in Gainesville’s vibrant punk scene. They were a rock act that punk kids liked, but the group’s devotion to the scene, allegiance to punk ethics, and, of course, a long run of incendiary live shows ensured Hot Water Music a permanent place in the hearts of Punks of a Certain Age.
What’s most notable here is what’s happened in the eight years since Hot Water Music last released an album. Yeah, Chuck Ragan embarked on a solo roots-rock endeavor that added even more whiskey-grizzle to his already rough-hewn voice; the other band members briefly worked as The Draft, playing some very Hot Water-esque sounds before also working on solo material. But more importantly, this “reunion” has actually been going on for more than four years, with the band playing dozens of shows every year, further tightening their classic material and laying the groundwork for Exister, an album that not only succeeds as a worthwhile addition to their catalog, but also as a new direction, one that takes into account the fact that the band–and their audience–has grown up quite a bit since the early ’90s.
In general, Exister loudly emphasizes HWM’s strengths as a no-bullshit rock ‘n’ roll band, and “Mainline” opens the album as a blistering statement of intent that both evokes their earlier sound and leaves it completely behind. Likewise, the title track and “Drown in It” are classic, fast-paced rockers, with burly choruses and a locomotive’s worth of rhythmic thrust. But one of the strongest cuts here–”Pledge Wore Thin”–sounds the least like the old days, and instead augments its anthemic chorus with a mature, melodic approach. While not all of the fist-pumping numbers here are equally successful (“Drag My Body” nearly deflates the middle portion of the record by sounding like The Smithereens), they do show a reunited band that’s interested in charting a path forward instead of simply reflecting their past glories.
Essential Tracks: “Pledge Wore Thin”, “Mainline”