Album Review: Hot Water Music - Exister

4 June 2012 | 8:31 pm | Simon Rundin

While some of Exister’s songs are forgettable, and the album is by no means the band’s best, it’s still great to have Hot Water Music back.

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When Hot Water Music's frontman Chuck Ragan left the band to embark on a solo folk career, it was uncertain whether he would ever return to the fold. After a considerably long hiatus in which the other members got busy with their own side projects and an album without Ragan (as The Draft), Ragan has finally returned and the band has released their first studio full-length in eight years.

Produced by The Descendents' Bill Stevenson (Propagandhi, Rise Against, Frenzal Rhomb), Exister is by far the band's biggest-sounding and best-produced album of their career. Everything sounds crisp, loud and professional. Musically, the album is a mix between Caution (2002) and 2004's The New What Next – not as energetic as the former but faster than the latter. Ragan, the most distinctive of Hot Water Music's two vocalists, sounds like he's been smoking 20 cigars a day in the eight years since their previous LP – his voice is very gruff on the album. On paper, this may not sound good, but the change in his voice suits Hot Water Music's new tunes. Chris Willard puts in an admirable vocal performance too, but Ragan is the album's star.

Song-wise, rocking opener, Mainline, is an album highlight, as is the title track, and the band's most commercial song yet, Drag My Body, is a surprisingly good listen. However, closer, Paid In Full, will remind listeners what makes Hot Water Music so special. While some of Exister's songs are forgettable, and the album is by no means the band's best, it's still great to have Hot Water Music back.