Hotline TNT aren’t from Philly. Frontman Will Anderson proudly hails from Chippewa Valley, Wisconsin, though he now lives in Brooklyn with his chihuahua Alf. But Hotline TNT is part of the “new wave of American shoegaze” that’s spilling out of our fine city’s crustiest corners.
“I think it makes a lot of sense with the current climate of the world”. That’s Ella O’Conner Williams, who’s better known by her childhood nickname Squirrel Flower. Williams had just seen Chicago luminaries Astrobrite when we spoke in March and offered up this theory for why such a ’90s touchstone like shoegaze is back in vogue. “People are feeling very heavy. They’re turning to dreams, their imagination, this feeling of floating away”.
Now, none of these bands are big, even by indie standards. So far, the one with the most Spotify followers is Feeble Little Horse, though the critics prefer Knifeplay. Either way you slice it, Hotline TNT is the smallest. Performing at South By Southwest certainly raised their profile, but Anderson still rocks a side hustle as a substitute teacher/middle school counselor.
Heck, I’m not sure if Hotline TNT are considered a band. Anderson also moonlights as the editor-in-chief of his own NBA fanzine, and while he does tour with a five-person lineup, he recorded Hotline TNT’s lone album all by himself. This dude doesn’t even use a whammy bar. Instead, he just sort of yams on the neck of his Yamaha until the notes get all perfectly bent out of shape.
Not that Nineteen in Love didn’t come with plenty of bells and whistles. “October” closes with a softly crushing crescendo that was programmed by a drum machine in GarageBand. “Slide” slips off into wonky twinkles, while “4-H-T” ditches the guitar entirely for humming strings and a rainbow of synth that glistens like the cosmos.
Hotline TNT doesn’t follow full body 2 down the drum ‘n’ bass rabbit hole. And Anderson doesn’t muck around in the art-rock sandbox with They Are Gutting a Body of Water. What Hotline TNT does have in common with all the bands that I’ve mentioned is a commitment to piling up layer after layer of fuzzy, molten, squealing distortion. “Stampede” rumbles like a mudslide caught in slow motion, swirling with at least four or five different guitar riffs that would all blend right in on Loveless.
And yet — Hotline TNT stands out because of those riffs. Your prototypical shoegaze band will crank up their amps until the guitars drown out the vocals. That’s by design. The feelings don’t come from what they’re singing so much as the myriad ways their voice smears against the surrounding noise tapestry. Anderson does that too, though he also knows when to take his foot off the effects pedal. Hotline TNT’s new single is a shaggy acoustic back porch strummer that lays out the case for taking things slow. “If we keep hanging out / I think your love will come around”, he sings in a raw, gentle murmur that he’s never quite revealed before.
But Hotline TNT also rips. Before moving to Minneapolis, Anderson was the frontman for Weed. That band dealt in a hazy but fierce strain of punk rock that developed something of a cult following around the Pacific Northwest, and you can still hear stems of that influence loud and clear — especially on Hotline TNT’s early EPs. I’m not saying you can mosh to “Trinity”. The song is frantic, not pissed off. Still, the whole thing is a powder keg of lurching, juggernaut momentum. The way the guitars barrel downhill like a wagon full of snakes with its brakes cut will make you want to jump around and bang heads. Hotline TNT hasn’t blown up yet, but the fuse is already lit.
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