Turnstile’s fans—at least in the colorful imagination of their haters—are a legion of spin-kicking sycophants splayed akimbo in mid-air devotion, cheering the thrash-funk and rap-rock that surely no savvy hardcore fan misses. But the Baltimore-anchored five-piece deserves credit for riling these hardcore purists, who often sound like musical xenophobes when they decry outside influence. The backlash against the group also seems to stem from the presumption that the popular and resonant music of one’s adolescence—in this case, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Deftones, and 311—is categorically irredeemable as an adult. But Turnstile’s unlikely rise to a nationally adored major-label act shows hardcore’s nascent poptimism: Fans’ latent fondness for the alt-rock radio of their youth is resurfacing in their affection for Turnstile, even if they’re quick to point out, a smidge defensively, that the band cites its debts to lumpen bruisers such as Madball alongside Rage Against the Machine.
But the “experimentation” advertised on Time & Space, Turnstile’s third album and first for Warner Bros. imprint Roadrunner, is hesitant and unfocused. Instead of woven throughout the album, the flourishes are like mismatched ornamentation, out of place. To wit, Diplo’s synth squiggles on “Right to Be” are a celebrity cosign, not a touch of boldness. The 25-second R&B sketch “Bomb,” echoing the Gap Band’s hit “You Dropped a Bomb on Me,” is a derailment, not a detour. The album also includes an interlude called “Disco” and the cover sports a disco ball. Unless it’s about selling pre-order bundles, which come with a disco ball keychain, this theme is mystifying. Certainly, none of the songs themselves sound inspired by disco, and the imagery isn’t imaginative enough to compensate for the record’s fundamental shortcomings. It’s not exactly the conceptual, post-hardcore verve of Fucked Up. Even relieved of these distractions, Time & Space is actually a punishingly familiar collision of yesteryear’s crossover rock with textbook hardcore bluster.
Turnstile developed the sloshing hi-hats and mid-tempo strut of its early EPs into a more careening sound on 2015’s Nonstop Feeling, with vocalist Brendan Yates adopting a syncopated, Anthony Kiedis-style yawp atop blocky riffs and zigzagging solos. A perceptive troll listed Hot Action Cop’s sub-Limp Bizkit rap-rock hit “Fever for the Flava” as “Turnstile ‘NONSTOP FEELING’” on YouTube; it has 12,000 views. Perhaps chastened, Yates raps less these days. Time & Space has more lift than Nonstop Feeling, with texture and contour conveyed by tuneful backup vocals, tambourine, and handclaps where they’re unexpected. “I Don’t Wanna Be Blind” is like Deftones with more low-end, while “Moon,” on which bassist Franz Lyons charismatically croons, is an outlying bit of spritely pop-punk. The tasteful overdubs, along with dynamic mixing, rescue some songs, such as “Generator,” from feeling aggressively antiseptic.
Even by the standards of hardship and adversity bromides in hardcore, Turnstile lyrics still read like ad jingles for a gym (”It’s hard / Too hard / Too hard to get it off the ground”). Yates sings about “you,” who’s typically a traitor, and himself, who overcomes challenges that remain mostly mysterious. And “Big Smile,” though its subject is vague, typifies the scorn with which he writes about women, striking a chillingly dictatorial tone as he shouts, “When I look you in the eye/Don’t need your big smile.” It fits a pattern in the catalog: “Death Grip,” from 2011, goes “Another girl to tear apart a man’s heart/Tie me down while you sleep with the world,” while Nonstop Feeling’s “Can’t Deny It” criticizes a “two-faced girl.” How easily camaraderie, the theme Turnstile shares with its hardcore peers, dovetails with gendered expectations of loyalty and reprisals for perceived betrayal. They could better vindicate the Lollapalooza headliners of yore if they didn’t evoke the rank sexism of emo.
As far as sharing stages, Turnstile’s effort to straddle different scenes is commendable. Time & Space’s record release gig is presented by Damaged City—the prominent Washington, D.C. hardcore fest—and they recently played at Nature World Night Out in Los Angeles, which featured Hatebreed alongside rappers Lil Ugly Mane and CupcakKe. Despite its formal constrictions, hardcore is amenable to stylistic exchange. But if hardcore and hip-hop have better common ground than nu-metal, they deserve a better synthesis than Turnstile. Drummer Daniel Fang once said that “rebelling against your peers is the hardest thing to do,” but nostalgia is easy, and Time & Space is conservatism in disguise.