Album Review: Glassjaw Pays Homage to the Past and Warns the Present on Material Control

The mostly rewarding return could act as a career capper or a new beginning

The most laudable thing to come out of Glassjaw’s comeback record isn’t found on the record itself, but in the interviews surrounding it. During recent talks with the Alternative Press, The Guardian, and Noisey, frontman Daryl Palumbo made news by eagerly and decisively disavowing the misogynistic lyrics that fueled some of his band’s most-beloved hits. With songs like “Pretty Lush” likely in mind (sample lyrics: “You can lead a whore to water/ And you can bet she’ll drink and follow orders”), Palumbo described his older work as “offensive,” “insensitive,” and “the ignorant silliness of saying disrespectful things on a record because you’re a child and you’re acting like a child.”

Genuine contrition or performative wokeness? You be the judge, but to me, it feels like the former. Glassjaw come from the same Long Island post-hardcore scene that produced Brand New and its now-disgraced frontman, Jesse Lacey; given the direness of Lacey’s conduct (as well as the recent re-evaluations of third wave emo’s toxicity and the impending demise of Warped Tour,  through which Glassjaw earned its initial acclaim for both good and ill), a little self-reflection regarding one’s own complicity in a cultural crisis feels like a natural, and healthy, response.

It’s one that also bleeds over into the material on the band’s latest album. Released 15 years after Glassjaw’s last full-length, Material Control finds Palumbo and guitarist Justin Beck looking back past their own success to the New York hardcore bands that inspired them as high schoolers. Thus, their first new material since 2011’s Coloring Book EP opts not for the full-frontal rage of 2000’s Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Silence, nor for the melodic discontent of 2002’s Worship and Tribute, but instead for a punishing, supermassive wall of sound that feels as inspired by our current geopolitical situation as it is by a pretty rad Quicksand record.

Material Control finds the apocalypse afoot. Aside from shout-outs to human tragedies ranging from volcanic destruction (“Pompeii”) to bloody revolution (“Bastille Day”) to the death of Christ (“Golgotha”), this end-times mindset mostly manifests itself in a renewed investment in the band’s rhythm section. Finally free from the input of money-minded producers, Beck is free to place his bass front and center alongside the unrelenting drums of the Dillinger Escape Plan’s Billy Rymer. With their powers combined, the two raise some serious hell; if you can listen to the opening of “Golgotha” or the entirety of opener “New White Extremity” without pumping your fist, you’re either dead or more contrary than a Slate columnist.

This increased focus on the bass has been a long time coming; the band told NPR that “the record finally sounds like the band [they] heard in [their] heads.” Whether or not it sounds like the band that fans expected is another question. At his best, Palumbo ranked alongside At the Drive-In’s Cedric Bixler as one of his generation’s most enthralling post-hardcore vocalists. On Material Control, however, he’s given meager opportunities to shine; while his unmistakable voice breaks through on the smoldering “Shira” and the brooding “Strange Hours”, Palumbo is often overwhelmed by his band’s new production philosophy. The vocalist’s cryptically florid lyricism also finds itself pared down to the sinew. That’s probably a necessary function of age and editing (or maybe a subtle realization that pouring yourself completely into a microphone leads to saying things you’ll eventually regret), but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t also a little disappointing.

In paying homage to seminal-but-still-underrated acts like Into Another and Mind Over Matter, Palumbo and Beck create a Glassjaw record unlike any other and not always in a good way. In doing so, they also crafted the Glassjaw record most in tune with our current reality. This combination of hero-honoring nostalgia and clear-eyed now-ism makes for a tricky line to walk, and Material Control feels like a record that could just as easily act as a cap on a singular career or a jumping-off point for future collaborations.

Personally, I’m pulling for the latter. While Glassjaw may have contributed to making the world the shitty, complicated place it is today, their newly invigorated voice also just might have a place in making the coming bad times easier to reckon with.

Essential Tracks: “Shira”, “Golgotha”, and “Strange Hours”


Follow Consequence