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Every generation has its own version of what I like to call “stoned in the backseat” music. These are the songs that you hear in high school whenever you’re buzzed and driving around aimlessly in your friend’s car. You might not know exactly who performs these songs — they belong on CDs you don’t own and playlists you didn’t program. But your soul unthinkingly absorbs them anyway, and over time this music inspires Pavlovian associations with the guileless good times of youth.
My version of “stoned in the backseat” music was performed by aggressive yet thoughtful dudes with an aversion to shirts and an equally strong penchant for blending punk, metal, psychedelia, and funk-oriented grooves. Pantera, Sepultura, Operation Ivy, early Rancid, Badmotorfinger, Master Of Puppets
— even now I can’t hear this intensely physical music without instantly feeling the buzz of cheap schwag and overheated subwoofers being pushed to the brink by detuned guitars and hyper-syncopated drums.
I knew I was in love with Time & Space, the joyously fun new album by Baltimore’s preeminent experimental hardcore band Turnstile, when I felt that same buzz the moment the pile-driving opener “Real Thing” kicked in. Powered by a filthy bassline, groove-metal guitar heroics that simultaneously reference Bad Brains and Dimebag Darrell, relentless drum rolls, and a screaming singer who denounces inauthenticity while in search of that night’s six-pack, “Real Thing” delivers the goods as both a scrappy juvenile-delinquent anthem and a Trojan horse for a surprisingly complex set of music ideas. And it does all of those things in just 117 seconds.
Clocking in overall at just 26 minutes, Time & Space is the first rock record I’ve heard in far too long that functions as a party-starter and party-ender. Most tracks come and go in the space of two minutes, and yet there’s usually time for some punk-rock caterwauls, a weird psych-metal interlude, an epic thrash climax, and a spacey robo-R&B coda that resembles an outtake from Prince’s mid-’80s Around the World In A Day era. (Cameos by Diplo and Sheer Mag’s Tina Halladay testify to the album’s broadness.) The result is a modern masterpiece of “stoned in the backseat” music, made for blasting while exiting your parents driveway, dancing, making out, fighting, hugging it out, and then screaming along with on the drive back home.
A misconception about aggressive music is that it has to be divisive or alienating. But Time & Space exudes warmth and inclusiveness. Above all, it sounds like friendship — the most crucial aspect of “stoned in the backseat” music.
It makes sense that friendship was the main topic of conversation when I phoned Turnstile’s 28-year-old frontman Brendan Yates last month. In photos, Yates fits the mold of “absurdly muscular and perpetually shirtless singer” that was a mainstay of so many of the bands who pounded their way into my heart back when I was a teenager. But in conversation, he’s quiet, polite, and deferential, softly mumbling his answers to my questions on the other end of the line.