I remember hearing The Gaslight Anthem’s “Sink or Swim” for the first time. I was in the lounge ironing (how rock and roll) and it stopped me in my tracks. For the next few months I listened to nothing else; living and breathing their nostalgia filled, Americana tinged folky punk world. This is the closest comparison I can draw for Desire Paths; the debut album by Chicago’s Turnspit both in terms of its quality and sound. The band were already a staple of the Mair household on the back of two excellent EPs (their debut 2015 release “I Wonder if They are Happy” and 2016 split single with Holy Mess troubadour Steve O and his crippling Addictions), with their combination of modern, lyrical storytelling (“Watching the Lightning”) or angsty, personal and introspective tunes (“To The Moon and Back”) meaning they’ve more than filled the hole left by Brain Fallon and Co. whilst they enjoy their hiatus. Consequently a full length by the Chicago natives was definitely on the most wanted list…
For existing fans “Desire Paths” picks up exactly where you’d hope; full of sing-a-long songs, heart-on-sleeve emotion and excellent lyrical storytelling that is both highly personal and challenging but also fun and always engaging.
First track “Irish Name” is amazing. It showcases Gillian McGhee’s gritty and aggressive Chuck Ragan meets Kylie Lotz emotionally vulnerable voice perfectly; capable of switching from subtle and soft to loud and raspy. If your first introduction to the band is this track you’ll easily be won over! A catchy tune with instantly infectious and sing-a-long lyrics; it’s safe to assume this will sound epic, and most likely be a ton of fun, in a live setting. It’s pretty much a relentless song complete with a fun little guitar solo, gang vocal breakdown and who-whoas. It’s an easy song to put on repeat (again and again)!
This approach also works well on “Walk Away”, a great rocking, vocal driven song with another epic sing-a-long chorus that also plays to second vocalist Jason Swearengin’s voice providing some depth and an extra layer when needed in the background. Again the little guitar flourishes help differentiate them from other bands. It also showcases their collective abilities as songwriters to compose and structure songs to have a broader appeal to a more rock audience, in the same way The Gaslight Anthem, or more recently The Menzingers, have been able to transcend rigid scene boundaries.
Their ability to write anthemic feel good songs that make your hair stand on end is truly the preserve of a few exceptional bands. Yet the maturity and craft on display is startling; for example using a string accompaniment in Invisible, adds a melancholic layer that would have been missing if it had been purely acoustic. The bare, personal emotion within “Skin” and “Breath Taking” also demonstrate the confidence of the band. “Breath Taking” deals with Jason’s sexual identity and subsequent liberation through a brilliant modern-era Hot Water Music approach, whilst “Skin” is brutal, uncomfortable and uncompromising. Over recent years we’ve seen an increasing visibility of abuse, sexual misconduct and other behaviours that contradict the values we as a scene profess to uphold, particularly around the scene’s views towards women; anyone still unsure on why it’s important these issues are addressed needs to listen to this song. Absolute props need to be sent to Gillian for such a challenging song; yet behind it all (as with many of the other songs on Desire Paths) there is an inherent resilience and positivity; marking their political and social awareness out above many of the peers.
In terms of standouts “Apologies I Have So Many” is stunning, with a chorus that warrants everyone singing in unison. It’s a great Menzingers style punk rock song; fast, full of melody and insanely catchy, making use of the duel vocalists in the best way possible and will undoubtedly put a smile on your face. “Home is Run No More” is another song where the back and forth vocals work so well and within its frantic, chaotic delivery hides a real pop punk gem. “Taproom” is a more straightforward rock song, with Gillian’s range on full display moving from gritty to soulful. Like the best of the Gaslight Anthem, it’s just a great story-tellers song. Meanwhile “Midsentence” draws on that brilliant Midwestern vibe with a gorgeous guitar line and Gillian providing a gentle backing vocal to Jason’s all out blast.
Production wise the album is also stunning; clean and crisp picking up on all the subtlety and depth within the songs. In true DIY fashion, the production was handled by drummer Dan Tinkler, who lays one of the best beats I’ve heard in ages to drive the opening of closing track “If It Meant Heaven…”. To suggest the whole band is on top of their game would be an understatement!
There are a couple of slower acoustic numbers breaking the album up slightly, although not the flow. The aforementioned “Invisible” is a great set up for the final track clocking in at under 2 minutes and is an atmospheric Petal-esque tune, whilst “Given” wouldn’t be lost amongst folk punks finest at the Revival Tour, that sounds like Jason is having the time of his life with.
For a debut album, Desire Paths has well and truly exceeded any expectations. It’s the kind of album you’ll instantly fall in love with and find yourself telling other people to listen to it with almost as much passion as the band spent crafting it. Over the years Chicago has been home to many vital bands within the punk scene from The Lawrence Arms to Alkaline Trio. Turnspit are the latest band to join that list!
Stream Desire Paths here.
Like Turnspit here: https://www.facebook.com/turnspitband/
This review was written by Richard Mair.