The road to ‘Glow On’ – a guide to Turnstile’s back catalog
Turnstile became the biggest success story in modern hardcore with their crossover hit Glow On, but it didn't happen overnight. This edition of 'In Defense of the Genre' looks at all the music Turnstile put out in the decade leading up to Glow On's release.
Turnstile's Glow On was not just a massive breakthrough for the band, but for hardcore in general. It was met with far more acclaim that hardcore or even punk albums usually get these days (it was our #1 album of 2021); it landed them slots on late night TV, NPR's Tiny Desk, and Coachella; and the band are currently gearing up to support it on a tour featuring some of their biggest venues yet, that almost entirely sold out shortly after being announced. Glow On is a rare album that entirely transcends hardcore without abandoning it; Turnstile still have one foot firmly planted within the hardcore scene that birthed them, but Glow On has won over tons of fans who wouldn't otherwise ever listen to hardcore. And though Turnstile are just the tip of the iceberg of the modern hardcore scene, it's well-deserved and not surprising that they're the ones breaking through. Glow On sounds as natural next to other hardcore bands as it does next to indie, hip hop, and pop artists. It is both more experimental and more accessible than anything else happening within hardcore right now, and never at the expense of the raw energy that attracts people to this style of music. If it wasn't clear before Glow On, it's clear now: Turnstile are a once-in-a-lifetime band.
Glow On was a lot of people's introduction to Turnstile, but they're far from an overnight success story. They formed in 2010 (with members who were also in Trapped Under Ice, Mindset, and other bands), over a decade before Glow On came out, and they've got two full-length albums, three proper EPs, and a few other miscellaneous releases that predate its release. Glow On is the moment they fully transcended their genre, and an album that is sure to go down as a landmark of its era, but you can hear the seeds for Glow On being sewn as far back as Turnstile's debut EP. If Glow On pulled you into Turnstile's world but you're wondering where to start with their back catalog, we've put together a guide to all of their major releases leading up to Glow On. Turnstile still play a ton of early stuff live too, so if you're seeing them soon and haven't familiarized yourself, there's no time like the present.
Pressure to Succeed (2011, Reaper Records)
After issuing a three-song demo in 2010, Turnstile's first proper release was the 2011 Pressure to Succeed EP, featuring all three of those songs and three others. It's a much rawer, more primitive release than what Turnstile are doing now, but at the same time, it's kind of amazing how much it does sound like the Turnstile of 2021/2022 and how gracefully it's aged. Even at this early stage in their career, they were starting to develop the unique melting pot of ingredients that would become their signature. The EP's got riffs for days that are as chunky as they are groovy. There's clearly a lot of late '80s - mid '90s NYHC influence in there, and Brendan Yates -- who at this time may have been better known as the drummer of Trapped Under Ice -- had already developed the rap-adjacent shouting style that would earn this band a zillion Rage Against the Machine comparisons over the course of the next decade. The melodic side that would eventually make Turnstile a very accessible band hadn't really been embraced yet on this EP, but it still feels more inviting than your average tough-guy NYHC-inspired fare. It established Turnstile as a force right off the bat, and over a decade later, it's still fun as hell to listen to.
Step 2 Rhythm (2013, Reaper Records)
As effective as Pressure to Succeed was at introducing Turnstile, their second EP Step 2 Rhythm is the moment where you first start to hear Turnstile developing their own identity, separate from their influences. The "7"/"Keep It Moving" opener is Turnstile to the fullest. It's got riff after riff after riff, and like on Glow On, these are riffs that you can air guitar to as much as you can hum along to. Brendan is still primarily shouting, but he tries on a little melodic singing and there are some airy "ahhhs" in there too, something Turnstile would perfect down the line. And it ends with a vintage sample, another hallmark of Turnstile's sound and something they'd eventually start writing their own versions of (like "Bomb"). It's still rough around the edges compared to later Turnstile, but it's clear that they'd already begun figuring out the sound that they'd eventually bring to the masses. From that massive opening, Step 2 Rhythm is the gift that keeps on giving. "Canned Heat" has a riff and "HOO!" combo as infectious as anything on Glow On, "Pushing Me Away" has a shouted hook and psychedelic guitar solo that hints at the band's future, and "Better Way" is an early example of Turnstile's ability to pull enough rhythmic 180s to keep the crowd in constant motion. The title track does a similar thing, reminding you that Turnstile -- and a lot of good hardcore -- is fundamentally dance music. Step 2 rhythm, indeed.
Nonstop Feeling (2015, Reaper Records)
As if Step 2 Rhythm wasn't a perfect enough name for Turnstile's music, they called their first full-length Nonstop Feeling, a name that would apply to just about everything they've released. Nonstop Feeling made good on the promise of the EPs and made large strides towards pushing Turnstile's sound forward. Turnstile were a tight band on Pressure to Succeed, but they're leaps and bounds tighter on Nonstop Feeling, and the production (handled by punk veteran Brian McTernan) is much sharper than anything the band had done previously. They sound way more confident on this album, and the lines between their growing number of influences are continuing to blur. By Nonstop Feeling, Turnstile had become a riff machine; just about every track on this album is powered by slabs of forceful yet catchy NYHC-indebted rhythm guitar, and their leads were getting snakier and more distinct. The song structures were getting more complex, the influence of psychedelia was seeping in more profoundly, and Turnstile were continuing to hone their melodic chops too. It's still way more of a heavy, shouty album compared to what Turnstile would do next, but songs like "Can't Deny It" and "Bring It Back" flirted with catchier refrains, "Out of Rage" and "Love Lasso" experimented with slower tempos, and "Drop" is one of Turnstile's most convincing arguments for hardcore-as-dance-music. But the song that stood out most on Nonstop Feeling, and hinted most strongly at what was to come, was "Blue by You." An entirely clean-sung, melodic punk song, it proved Turnstile could write '90s-style radio-rock hits if they felt like it, and it remains one of their most enduring songs. On Nonstop Feeling, it was an outlier, but it would put Turnstile on a path towards widespread accessibility and they'd never look back.
Move Thru Me (2016, Pop Wig)
Turnstile's Move Thru Me EP only has four songs, two of which would end up as one combined track on 2018's Time & Space (more on that album very soon) and one of which was a cover (of Give's "Fuck Me Blind"), but it marked a crucial turning point in Turnstile's career. It had already been revealed months earlier that Turnstile signed to the Warner-owned Roadrunner Records, but this EP came out on the band's own Pop Wig label. It united them with producer Will Yip, whose production style helped define the sound of 2010s punk, and it showed off a version of Turnstile where the heavy stuff and the catchy stuff was happening all at once. "Come Back For More"/"Harder On You" is a great deep cut on Time & Space, even if it's not one of the album's most monumental songs, but it and this EP's title track served as the perfect teaser for what was to come.
Time & Space (2018, Roadrunner)
About a year and a half after Move Thru Me's release, Turnstile finally put out their Roadrunner debut, produced by Will Yip and featuring "Come Back For More/H.O.Y." alongside 12 other songs, and it was by far the most ambitious, unique, and genre-defying thing they'd ever released. Glow On pushed Turnstile over the edge in terms of crossover success, but musically speaking, the widespread appeal was already there on Time & Space. Will Yip's production is a little more typically punk-sounding than Glow On's, and Time & Space is overall a more aggressive record, but it's full of moments that are just as transcendent as its successor.
"Come Back For More" helped show the world that Turnstile were headed in a new direction, but it couldn't have prepared anyone for what Turnstile would do on Time & Space's four singles. "Real Thing," which kicks off the record, is one of the most adrenaline-rush-inducing songs in Turnstile's discography, and every bit as radio-friendly as the catchiest moments of Glow On. It's powered by a riff that knocks me off my feet no matter how many times I hear it, and it marks the moment where Brendan figured out he could be shouty/aggressive and write singalongs all at once. In the background, there's vocal harmonies and soaring lead guitars that find Turnstile seamlessly blending their hardcore attack with their knack for melodic psychedelia. It's a hell of a song, and it's not even the most awe-inspiring song on Time & Space; that would be "Generator." In three minutes and 14 seconds, it finds time for devil-horn riffs worthy of a Slayer record, fast-paced hardcore, airy "ahhhs" and other trippy backing vocals, an ambient interlude, a shredded guitar solo, the kind of multi-layered hand claps/percussion that would define Glow On, and an entirely radio-friendly, clean-sung hook from bassist Franz Lyons. It's a mini epic. Franz also shows off his vocal chops by taking lead on one of the album's other singles, "Moon," which feels like the spiritual successor to "Blue by You" and also sounds like it would've been a huge hit in the '90s. And then there's "I Don't Wanna Be Blind," a climactic post-hardcore song that sounds like Fugazi reincarnated. All four of these singles are entirely different from one another, and all of them show a band who are miles ahead of the Turnstile of Nonstop Feeling.
The four singles are the moments on Time & Space that feel the biggest, but the deep cuts are no slouches either. Elsewhere on this fantastic record, there's the circle-pit-inducing punk of rippers like "Big Smile" and "High Pressure," the latter of which provides one of the album's most satisfying moments when it brings in pounding "I Wanna Be Your Dog" style piano. Songs like "Can't Get Away," "(Lost Another) Piece of My World," and "Right To Be" found Turnstile making good on their promise of writing songs that really groove but are still heavy as fuck. "Bomb" and "Disco" are interludes that branch out into R&B and electronic music and strongly hint at the path Glow On would take. And throughout all of it, Turnstile work in all kinds of unexpected melodies and effects and production techniques, making for a record that's heavy, trippy, catchy, and wholly original.
Share A View (2020, Roadrunner)
While Turnstile was making the world wait for a followup to Time & Space, they issued the Share A View EP, an EP with remixes of "Generator," "Real Thing." and "I Don't Wanna Be Blind" by the Australian electronic musician Mall Grab. Turnstile themselves didn't write anything new for it, but it does feel like a crucial stepping stone on the road to Glow On. It shows off Turnstile's interest not just in hardcore-as-dance-music but in actual dance music, and it served as a primer for the funkier and more electronic-tinged moments on Glow On. Some moments work better than others, but I don't know how many hardcore bands have officially commissioned electronic remix EPs of their work, and Turnstile being one of them says a lot about the kind of barrier-smashing band they are.
Glow On (2021, Roadrunner)
Glow On has proved to be Turnstile's big breakthrough, but if you're new to this album too, here's what we said about it when we named it the best album of 2021:
2021 produced so many great records that fall under the punk umbrella, but one towered above the rest: Turnstile's Glow On. With this album, Turnstile have made an exciting, innovative record that invites new listeners into the punk and hardcore community, all while staying loyal to -- and boosting -- the scene that birthed them. The music on this album is proof that it's still possible to do entirely new things within the genre. Without abandoning Turnstile's hardcore roots, Glow On incorporates everything from R&B hooks to go-go drums to dream pop atmosphere to thrash solos. It's a record that frequently sounds like it shouldn't work, yet somehow, everything is always in its right place. It's one of the catchiest, weirdest, most unique, and most exhilarating records released this year in any genre of music. It makes me think of records like Refused's The Shape of Punk to Come, AFI's Sing the Sorrow, and Fucked Up's David Comes to Life -- all albums from bands with hardcore roots who pushed the genre into more ambitious, more experimental, and/or more pop-friendly territory -- but I'd even argue it succeeds in ways those albums didn't. Every song hits, no two songs sound alike, and despite being overstuffed with ideas, the entire album feels concise. But more importantly than any of this, the songs are just a total blast to listen to. The rhythms rush through your veins, the hooks are damn near impossible to get out of your head, the guitar riffs and drum fills are as satisfying as they come. "If it makes you feel alive/Well, then I'm happy I provide," Brendan Yates shouts on the chorus of album standout "Blackout." And it does, every time.
Read past and future editions of 'In Defense of the Genre' here.