Comeback albums are tricky, especially for a band as beloved as Hot Water Music. Wisely, on their eighth disc (and first new album in as many years), the band decided not to recreate the past but instead forge ahead. The songs on Exister expand the boundaries of their sound without sacrificing the visceral sing-alongs that endeared them to fans.
For the past decade co-frontman Chuck Ragan has had a successful career as a folk troubadour, which makes it even more satisfying to hear those whiskey-soaked pipes crack with emotion on roaring anthems like “Mainline” and “Paid in Full.” The band’s other guitarist/vocalist, Chris Wollard, crafts songs like “The Traps” that are more pop-inspired than anything the band has done before, though the harmonizing sing-alongs during the choruses keep the music sufficiently ragged.
There are many more captivating moments on this 13-song collection (the jazz-informed bass line and syncopated drum beat on “Drag My Body” confirms that HWM still have the best rhythm section in punk rock), but what’s most satisfying is how many chances the band took. Instead of recreating what they’ve done, they’ve taken a giant sonic step forward, their battle cry conveyed via distorted guitars and pounding rhythms.