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Get Your Booty On The Floor. Turnstile Is Here To Help

Vocalist Brendan Yates directing the dance at Turnstile's <em>Glow On</em> release show at Clifton Park Bandshell in Baltimore.
Farrah Skeiky for NPR
Vocalist Brendan Yates directing the dance at Turnstile's Glow On release show at Clifton Park Bandshell in Baltimore.

Turnstile is a dance band. Presumably you can perform other activities while listening to Turnstile. Stare at your bills, go to the gym, count the likes on your most recent Instagram post. Whatever. Be free. Countless dishes have been washed and children conceived while Le Freak played in the background as well. But the Baltimore five-piece (who formed in 2010 and consists of Brady Ebert, Daniel Fang, Brendan Yates, Franz Lyons and Pat McCrory) makes music specifically designed for the purpose of inspiring one to shake what one's mother bestowed upon one. Seeing as Turnstile — even while drawing from disparate sounds of the last 60 years of recorded music (soul, Latin soul, funk, hardcore, alternative rock, house, pop, heavy metal, hard rock, hip-hop, etc.) — is very much a hardcore-punk rock band, the pressure to dance well is off. No sense of rhythm is required. Just the desire to get one's booty on the floor. To shake said booty until it is broken. And, more than occasionally, the desire to ritualistically hurl one's booty off the stage into the sweaty, rump-heaving crowd below.

Turnstile's new album released Aug. 27, Glow On, has been met with near universal approval; a rapture of hosannas, from nearly every corner of the music-sphere, usually reserved for hardcore-punk musicians only after they "mature" and stop playing hardcore-punk music altogether. (Or die.) Turnstile is correctly lauded for its belief that (as the promo materials claim) "everything is dance music," the band's melding of genres, the searching vulnerability of Brendan Yates and Franz Lyons' lyrics and singing, and the (reasonably) untoxic joyousness of its mosh pits.

I sympathize with those few who "just don't get it." Consensus can be oppressive; a demonic Ted Lasso pursing the lips of all haters, refusing the possibility that their callow, small-minded refusal to let people enjoy things might instead be genuinely held difference of taste. But those who worry themselves into a tizzy over Turnstile's genre tag misunderstand hardcore's history. Since its inception, hardcore has been as much an activity as a music. Nobody goes to hardcore shows to just stand there with their arms crossed. (Well, I do. But I'm a nerd who is overprotective of my beautiful nose and glasses.) For decades, hardcore has made use of whatever sounds were part of its individual player's background. Whether it be the reggae of Bad Brains, the "Corona groove metal" of Madball, the chromatic guitar flourishes of Burn, the posi-vibe bubblegum pop of Gorilla Biscuits, or the high plaintiveness of Into Another or Black Train Jack's vocalists, hardcore has never been as regimented as even some of its adherents would have you believe. Hell, half the toughest tough guys in NYHC have sidelines as rappers.

Rather, hardcore is as much about new shoes and dance moves and urban youth demonstrating their various styles as it is about shorthaired metal riffs and indescribable pain expressed by white hoodlums in black hoodies. And Turnstile's nothing but true to the sprawling, rambunctious spirit of hardcore. Take, for instance, "Wild Wrld," wherein merengue percussion bounces on a house music kick beat, but not before transposing what sounds like the chorus of Flo Rida's "Low" to a one-two pop-punk crush groove. The 2:55-minute song also makes space for a windmilling breakdown that should satisfy even the most grimly tattooed adherent. There are three things, historically speaking, that hardcore reveres above all else: the provisional nature of interpersonal relationships, hardcore itself, and moving that body across the dance floor. Turnstile respectfully acknowledges the first two while the band, especially on Glow On, takes the third tenant of hardcore to the hoop.

Turnstile's unabashed affection for funk — and go-go, D.C.'s homegrown offshoot — is inarguable. Often overlooked (or registered bemusedly as the band being "funk metal"), Turnstile's allegiance is less telegraphed through obvious signifiers like slap bass and more subtly communicated via Easter eggs spread across its catalog. Throughout Glow On, even when not spelled out, evidence the band's deep knowledge (instilled from parents and the ambient sounds of their Baltimore/D.C. area upbringings) of the ouvre of George Clinton, Betty Davis and Walter "Junie" Morrison, is abundant. Turnstile's pre-show playlist boasts (amidst tracks by house music DJs and TikTok emo-pop stars) R&B deep cuts like Evelyn 'Champagne' King's "Love Come Down" and Alexander O'Neal & Cherrelle's "Saturday Love."

On the album itself, drummer Daniel Fang combines his kit playing with drum pads to add a distinctly '80s electro vibe to alternately straight-ahead and polyrhythmic playing, at one point devoting an entire 15-second breakdown (an eternity in hardcore time) to a full on Fania-esque Latin rock-and-soul beat. On "T.L.C. (Turnstile Love Connection)," a soon-to-be crowd favorite, Brendan Yates quotes Sly & the Family Stone's "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" — presumably, the parenthesis following the song's title is a nod as well. Gentle piano and strings open "Fly Again" with a Northern soul flourish (inspired by Yates' grandfather, a jazz pianist), and are quickly replaced with melodically bruising riffage and guitar leads, but the plangently sung "didn't I" echoes The Delfonics' "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind)."

Some of the above may be due to the influence of Mike Elizondo, the Grammy-winning producer who helmed Glow On. He did, after all, co-write Mary J. Blige's "Family Affair" and produced two Avenged Sevenfold albums. As a bassist, he's cited both Metallica's Cliff Burton and Motown's James Jamerson as influences. But if he did have a hand in any of Glow On's direct funk references, it was presumably as a partner to the band's intentions. After all, the second Turnstile album contained a 25-second snippet, sung by Tanikka Meyers, of The Gap Band's "You Dropped a Bomb on Me." In the context of other clues, it's not too wild to think that the album title for 2018's Time & Space came from the Ohio Players song of the same name.

When comparing young bands to their presumed ancestors, there's invariably a degree of projection attached. We hear what we're familiar with, even if it's unlikely (though not impossible) that the band in question has heard all the same songs we have. With Turnstile, they get Rage Against the Machine or Jane's Addiction and a hundred other bands from thirty years ago who espoused vague theories of liberation and never wore shirts. I'm as guilty as anyone; when I hear Turnstile compared to 311 I bristle because I don't like 311, so I compare Turnstile instead to Suicidal Tendencies, who I do like, and worry about being correct later.

While rarely, if ever, political in its lyrics — though sometimes outspoken on stage and social media, including a defense of the band playing Israel in 2017 — Turnstile clearly believes in the possibilities for liberation inherent to (if only recently acknowledged by critical intelligentsia) dance music. If the Funkadelic dictum to "Free Your Mind... and Your Ass Will Follow" holds true, then the inverse must be true as well. Live, the band projects a vision of utopian gratitude that's as much a safe place as it is an aspirational striving to transcend the Birth, School, Work, Watch-The-Matrix-on-your-phone, Death grind of mere existence. A lot of the lyrics on Glow On are darker, or at least more ambivalent, than their delivery would imply. But, in the song "Dance-Off," when Brendan Yates asks, "But are we alive?" the presumptive answer is "yes." The resultant diving from the stage, the midair frenzied shaking of one's ass, the plunge into the hot-blooded human dance floor below, collectively holding its hands up to catch one's fall, is the proof of it.

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Zachary Lipez