It all depends on how you’re going to like this split EP by Chicago favorites Alkaline Trio and Gainesville, Florida’s Hot Water Music. If you’re a fan of one, but not the other, chances are you’ll find the disc a 50/50 affair. Personally, I hadn’t heard either band before acquiring this disc, but I will say that it made me check out both groups’ other work. This is probably the core hope of Jade Tree, who has released this work.
But first things first. To put it bluntly, I love the Alkaline Trio’s songs on this disc and am less than enthralled by the sound of Hot Water Music. The ironic thing about this disc, however is that both bands do cover versions of each other’s tunes. In Alkaline Trio’s case, they cover Hot Water Music’s "Rooftops", while Hot Water Music covers Alkaline Trio’s "Radio" and "Bleeder". In addition to the covers, Alkaline Trio offers up two new songs called "Queen of Pain" and "While You’re Waiting", while Hot Water Music gives us "God Deciding" and "Russian Roulette".
So onto the songs and sounds. Alkaline Trio is deserving of a major label deal. The three cuts on this EP find the group (featuring Matt Skiba on guitar and vocals, Derek Grant on drums, and Dan Andriano on bass and vocals) putting forth intelligent, catchy "pop punk" (though that’s not really the best term, but think Bad Religion at their catchiest) that could easily dominate modern rock stations and win over tons of fans. But the Alkaline Trio fans are already aware of how great this group is. I went back and snagged a copy of the group’s last album From Here to Infirmary to hear some more of their work, and even it seems like a great buildup to the sounds on this EP. Skiba has one of those voices that was made to sing rock and roll and sounds terrific through and through. The infectious "Queen of Pain" highlights his vocal strengths and from there, it’s an all-too brief affair with the equally fantastic "While You’re Waiting" and "Rooftops" that only leaves one wanting for more. That is, if you’re into a band like the Alkaline Trio.
If not, you might like the sounds of Hot Water Music. Honestly, these guys reminded me of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ more punkish tendencies minus the ska bullshit and horns. Unfortunately, I’ve never been a great fan of that group because of lead singer Dicky Barrett’s throaty vocal style that often found him shouting more than screaming. Such is the case the Hot Water Music (featuring Jason Black on bass, Chuck Ragan and Chris Wollard on vocals and guitars, and George Rebelo on drums). All too often the vocals are of that saliva-drenched, back-of-the-throat variety which takes out a lot of the punch of this group, whose musical abilities are as tight as the Alkaline Trio’s. Things start to calm down a bit in the singing department for the covers of "Radio" and Bleeder", but even then the former tune goes a little over the top for such a calmer exposition.
Undoubtedly, both of these groups have a great legion of fans, and deservedly so. For my money, though, Alkaline Trio wins this match. It’s hard to argue with the sounds of this band, their well thought-out lyrics ("I’m not much of a jester, but I just poison food for you / Your majesty, your royal blue" goes part of the chorus to "Queen of Pain") and musical interplay. And while Hot Water Music is not at all a bad band — their "God Deciding" is a fierce slab of emotion, I can’t help but be turned off by the singing. But that’s how it goes with these types of releases. Samplers are often a hit and miss affair, and this one is no different. Still, there will surely be fans of both, or either band(s) here to find something likable.