Album Review: Cartwheel – Hotline TNT’s Evocative Fusion of Shoegaze and Grunge

Cartwheel by Hotline TNT is an enthralling album that stands as a modern embodiment of the shoegaze and grunge genres, imbued with a deep understanding and respect for its musical predecessors. The band situates themselves adeptly between the contrasting styles of My Bloody Valentine’s dreamy noisescapes, Chapterhouse’s understated brilliance, and loveliescrushing’s experimental edge. This fusion, set against a backdrop of solid pop-rock songwriting, results in a dense yet melodically driven soundscape that resonates with a unique sincerity and artfulness.

The vocal melodies in Cartwheel are defined more by their emotive gesture than by traditional linguistic meaning, a trait characteristic of both grunge and shoegaze. This expressive approach enables the melodies to cut through the dense guitar and effect-driven noise, creating an impactful and visceral listening experience. The album’s progressions and melodies, while concise and often brief, are impactful, drawing listeners into their compact yet potent narrative worlds. These ambient and noise tracks, interspersed throughout, act as thoughtful transitions between the album’s succinct yet richly textured songs, giving the entire record a feel of a meditative journey through a landscape of subdued longing.

Upon first listen, it becomes apparent that Cartwheel is Hotline TNT’s most accomplished work to date. The album features some of the band’s most refined melodies and progressions, paired with a robust mix of heavy, psychedelic production. This blend of noise and pop sensibilities creates an intriguing dichotomy that defines the album. The band’s approach to grunge is less about historical authenticity and more about capturing the era’s essence through a contemporary lens, reminiscent of bands like Teenage Wrist and Wavves.

The opening track, Protocol, instantly transports listeners to the heyday of shoegaze with its soaring, noise-laden guitars, reminiscent of early My Bloody Valentine. Tracks like History Channel and BMX encapsulate the spirit of alternative youth, evoking memories that are both nostalgic and freshly invigorating. Songs like I Thought You’d Change and Stomp refine the raw energy of Hüsker Dü, distilling it into power-pop gems that echo the brilliance of Bob Mould’s best years.

Hotline TNT’s ability to draw from a wide array of influences is evident throughout the album. The band seamlessly integrates elements reminiscent of Big Star, the Raspberries, Beach House, and Cloud Nothings, creating a sound that is both familiar and novel. This diverse sonic palette makes Cartwheel an album that resonates with fans across the spectrum of alternative music.

Despite its broad range of influences, Cartwheel feels refreshingly authentic. It doesn’t come across as an attempt to impress with an overload of musical references. Instead, it presents as a collection of genuine songs from the heart, showcasing an aesthetic sensibility that effortlessly evokes decades of alternative music without falling into the trap of imitation. The album feels like a passionate homage to the genres it draws from, crafted by musicians who are deeply connected to the music they create.

In addition to its musical excellence, Cartwheel stands out for its lyrical depth. The album explores themes of longing, introspection, and the human experience, all conveyed through Hotline TNT’s unique lyrical style. The band’s ability to express complex emotions and ideas through their music adds a significant layer of depth to the album, inviting listeners to engage with the songs on a more profound level.

The production of Cartwheel is another highlight. The album’s sound is polished yet retains the raw energy essential to shoegaze and grunge. This careful balance of clarity and distortion creates an immersive experience that is both powerful and nuanced.

In summary, Cartwheel is a remarkable album that showcases Hotline TNT’s mastery of blending shoegaze and grunge with modern sensibilities. It’s a record that pays homage to its roots while forging its own path, filled with emotionally charged songs that speak to the heart. The band’s dedication to their craft and their ability to distill a wide array of influences into a cohesive and compelling whole make Cartwheel a standout release, not just as an album, but as a significant contribution to the evolution of the alternative music genre.

James Ewen
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