17 Feb 2024

Review: Cartwheel by Hotline TNT

From The Sampler, 2:30 pm on 17 February 2024
Will Anderson

Photo: Sara Messinger

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Like many genres that naysayers predicted would have a short lifespan, shoegaze has proved remarkably hardy. Pioneered by acts like My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive, the style revolves around layers of distortion and massive volumes, offset by a delicacy to the vocals and melodies. 

A new album by American practitioners has drawn huge acclaim recently, tapping into the aesthetics and marrying them to good old fashioned power-pop.

Hotline TNT is the project of Will Anderson, who played every sound heard on their second album, Cartwheel, himself. To shoegaze fans it’s pretty obviously operating within those parameters, but he’s slightly more agnostic about the term, telling Spin magazine it now applies to a broad range of music with loud guitars. He also says Loveless by My Bloody Valentine, largely considered the definitive shoegaze album, had a huge effect on him in his mid-teens.

He’s casual about the guitar tones on this album, which have been subject to much analysis and praise, telling the website Brooklyn Vegan “there’s no smoke and mirrors, I’m just messing around in [recording software] GarageBand, until it sounds cool”. His advice to other musicians is “just turn up the distortion”. 

Everything is cranked up, but listening you become aware that acoustic guitar is part of the mix; it’s just treated with the same disdain for fidelity, and blended with 12 string electric. You can hear the effect on ‘Stump’, and here it is again on ‘Beauty Filter’.

The sonics are so intentionally blown out, I’m not sure we’re even hearing live drums, but I suspect not. The necessity of one-man-bandship tends to create interesting sonic results, and here the maximalism of it all means that everything sounds a bit squished. 

But that’s not as important as the songs, which are all bursting with verve. Anderson’s melodies are bold and simplistic, but he doles them out evenly between vocals and guitar, and the results are greater than the sum of their parts.

In interviews Anderson comes across like a guy who stumbled across something that’s proved popular but isn’t quite sure why. Likewise his singing is unpolished and unambitious, which just adds to the relatability. 

That applies to the lyrics: On ‘I Know You’, which we just heard, he’s “just another guy on the side”. And ‘Out of Town’ features the line “sweetheart, don't leave me in the lost and found”.

Cartwheel is an album that slowly impresses, each listen reinforcing its sturdy songcraft. On the surface it’s as humble as its creator, but eventually reveals an abundance of ideas. Stylistically, Hotline TNT skirt pop punk and indie rock, but eventually, despite being just one person on record, they emerge as a great rock band.