On Hot Water Music's latest album, Caution, the group shows a strange obsession with defeat, visiting again and again themes of falling and hitting the ground with a thud. Singer-guitarists Chuck Ragan and Chris Wollard (who are backed by bass player Jason Black and drummer George Rebelo) sing, "That a certain fall is bound to send you to the cold floor," on "It's All Related" and, "It seems there's nothing left to stand on," on "Not For Anyone." Though these words are more than likely about failure in relationships, they're strangely appropriate for the band's career, too. Not that they're not successful: This Gainesville, Florida, quartet went from driving around the country to play small clubs and house shows and selling independent releases to playing the main stage on the Warped Tour and signing to Epitaph, one of the largest punk-rock labels in the country (Caution is a follow-up to last year's Epitaph debut, A Flight and a Crash) in the span of a couple of years. But they worry about it. In interviews, the band members seem mystified and certainly anxious about their current standing.
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Luckily that, um, caution doesn't show up on Caution, where Hot Water Music reins in its noise and fury for a more controlled sound that showcases the technical proficiency that too many punk/hardcore/whatever bands hide under volume and effects. But its trademark desperation and candid emotion are never sacrificed. And the result is the band's best album yet, with the two voices both angry and frantic but never messy and even, at times, melodic. Though they've traded in their tour bus from Warped for a van again and they're not playing arenas, Hot Water Music is touting a record worth more than skating shoes sponsorships. And when, on "Trusty Chords," they sing,"You'll get it right sometime/You will/I tell myself that every day," we know they already have, at least musically.