August 02, 2011 - Self-released
Nearly four years after reuniting, Gainesville, Florida, beard-punk progenitors Hot Water Music have finally delivered new music, though it's more of a teaser than anything else. The Fire, The Steel, The Tread is a two-song digital EP/7-inch that gives the listener a scant 6:19 of new HWM—the first new material from the band in seven years—but not much in the way of answers. The A-side, "The Fire, The Steel, The Tread," is led by Chuck Ragan, whose voice has taken on a more soulful, bluegrass-influenced tone since 2004's The New What Next. As such, the song carries with it a solid twang and rumble, coming off as more straightforward and, well, basic than anything the band have done before. (It's no surprise that the song originally started off as a Ragan solo number that was then morphed into a full-band track.) Co-vocalist Chris Wollard doesn't sing on the track at all, unfortunately, which could have added a much-needed layer of complexity.
The B-side, "Adds Up To Nothing," is fronted by Wollard, and features the opposite problem—no vocals from Ragan. However, this song is the superior of the two, an energetic, aggressive, uptempo number that could have been (and possibly was) left over from the Draft, Wollard's post-HWM band with bassist Jason Black and drummer George Rebelo. The rhythm section is locked in tight as Wollard lays down one of his signature guitar leads throughout the song, but still, it could use a boost from more interaction between the two frontmen.
While both of these tracks are enjoyable for their own reasons, it does leave longtime fans wondering just where Hot Water Music will end up on their next full-length, due in early 2012 on Rise Records. Will the vocal interplay of Ragan and Wollard return? Will the songs keep the punkier vibe of the Draft's In A Million Pieces or will Ragan's folk influence continue to wedge its way in? The band have long been labeled as "post-hardcore" but haven't really written a record in that mold since 1999's No Division; maybe a return to the more intricate nature of earlier material is in the works? Hot Water Music have never made the same album twice, so this EP does little to let onto the band's final plan. If they continue down the path they're on now, the album will most likely be pretty good. But if they try to shake up their songwriting a bit, the album could be great.