Turnstile are at the point where they're impossible to ignore, no matter what type of rock music you like. After spending the second half of the 2010s as the hardcore scene's hottest, most unanimously respected headlining act, their 2021 album, Glow On, took them to a level that few — if any — hardcore band has ever experienced.
They've played numerous late-night TV shows. Their music was recently tapped for a Taco Bell commercial. They frequently sell out multi-thousand-cap rooms and draw increasingly huge crowds at massive, mainstream festivals. In 2023, they'll directly support blink-182 for the pop-punk band's already-historic reunion tour with Tom DeLonge.
And oh yeah, they're nominated for three 2023 Grammys: Best Metal Performance, Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance.
While their post-Glow On rise definitely feels explosive, the Baltimore band have been steadily dropping high-quality material for over a decade. Their first two EPs were enthusiastically received by the hardcore underground, and every subsequent full-length — 2015's Nonstop Feeling, 2018's Time & Space and Glow On — has been a crucial gateway album for the correlating micro-generation of hardcore fans.
There's literally not a bad song in their catalog, but, like any great band, there are clear standouts. Below, are the 10 best Turnstile tracks — from their hard-and-heavy origins to their transcendently catchy current day.
From their very first EP, Turnstile were establishing themselves as unique. "The Things You Do" is a minute-long line in the sand between them and everyone else. "I'm not your average, I'm not your ordinary," Brendan Yates yelps as the mosh comes rolling in. The genius of the lyrics is that they're specific enough to light a fire in any hardcore outcast's heart ("I hate those things you do, and I'll never be like you") but just vague enough to avoid straight-edge pride tropes and frivolous scene beef.
The instrumental intro on Turnstile's second EP, Step 2 Rhythm, blends seamlessly with its first track, and that's the way the band have always played them live, so we're counting "7" and "Keep it Moving" as one. We haven't checked with a doctor on this, but it seems physically impossible to throw these tracks on and not be jumping off the closest table by the time that "Keep it Moving" riff comes crunching in. These are already iconic stage-dive anthems, and in the context of Turnstile's career arc, they're the first true glimpse at their preternatural catchiness.
Yates' lyrics on Turnstile's recent albums have mostly been self-reflective and melancholy, but "Canned Heat" is a vicious little romp from Step 2 Rhythm that flips the "hurt" and "pain" onto someone else. Musically, it comes roaring out the gate with a brisk, two-steppable stride, marching up to the house of Yates' wrongdoer and proclaiming, "You'll never be anyone, dead weight holding on," before blowing down the front door with a Madball-style breakdown. This one's for the fist-throwers.
"Drop" is a song about living in the moment; a common, maybe even trite message that Turnstile don't waste a second spelling out for you. Instead, they make you feel it in real time. Yates spits out the words, "Don't need the future/Don't need the past," with the harried urgency of someone dancing on hot coals, and before he has a chance to elaborate, his bandmates tumble and thrash into an infectiously pogoing groove that'll have you leaping off a monitor before you even have a chance to consider the consequences. No future, no past, just move your head — DROP!
Nonstop Feeling is Turnstile's riff-iest album. Their 2015 debut LP is the one that earned them so many comparisons to Rage Against the Machine and 311 — bands that few of their hardcore peers were referencing at the time. "Fazed Out"'s main guitar part sounds like something Tom Morello could've slotted in alongside "Know Your Enemy" back in '92, but Turnstile make it their own, shifting into a driving chug for the shout-back hook and bringing the riff back nastier and slower for its gnarly outro. They're so good at tacking a deceptively heavy section onto an otherwise melodic song. "Fazed Out" does this brilliantly.
More than just one of Turnstile's best, "Blue by You" is one of the greatest pop-rock songs in recent memory — and it was made by a fucking hardcore band. The yell-free outlier from Nonstop Feeling doesn't really feel like an outlier thanks to its urgent speed, but it's really just a teary-eyed Britpop song that's scuffed up enough to make people want to do backflips onto each other while they sing along. Turnstile have written a helluva lot of ear worms since "Blue by You," but the simple, traditional tunefulness of this song is unmatched.
Turnstile have never whiffed with an opening track. "Real Thing" kicks off 2018's Time & Space, and in two short minutes it gathers all the sonic elements they'd perfected thus far and then ups the ante. The harmonies are more full-bodied and the roomier production allows each members' parts to shine through for a more well-rounded sound, but the core identity of the band isn't watered down. The riffs are slicing — and the leads on this song make the guitars even bulkier — and Yates is shouting a relatively complex melody at the top of his lungs. What a song.
Turnstile's most apparent hardcore influence are the Bad Brains. They're a band who many claim to draw from but rarely rival, and "Big Smile" is one of several Turnstile tracks that successfully channels the whiplash structural change-ups of Brains songs like "Banned in D.C." and "Supertouch/Shitfit." The first 30 seconds is all burn-down-the-house intensity with flecks of reggae reverb in the vocals, and then it morphs seamlessly into a two-step roll you can really dig your heels into, dotted with psych-y little, "smi-aye-aye-aye-aye-aye" harmonies for an extra dose of hookiness.
To continue the Bad Brains analogy, 2021's Glow On was Turnstile's I Against I, the album where they opened the floodgates of influences from outside of hardcore — grunge, disco, R&B, funk, New Wave and more. Opener "Mystery" felt like an all-timer the moment it dropped, beginning with aqueous analog synths and an engine-revving guitar chord that cinematically builds and then bursts into a lunging, physically enthralling rawk riff. There's a celestial power to this track that's certainly present on the recording, but you really gotta see it live to get it.
Glow On is stuffed with bright, colorful songs where Turnstile sound like they're singing from atop the album cover's puffy white clouds. "Holiday" is the most jubilant and contagious of them all, though. Its riff is so crunchy, the song was used for the aforementioned fast food ad. The simple refrain, "So I can never feel the cold," has the hypnotic pull of a dance-club house track. And despite all that poppy flair, they still find room for a floor-rattling bass bomb that ushers in a thrusting, smile-while-you-swing breakdown. "Holiday" has got it all.