If you don’t count the gap years taken in Hot Water Music’s time on earth – it broke up first from ‘96 to ‘97, then again from ‘06 to ‘08 – it’s been going for 25 years – since 1993, outlasting millions of other bands. It’s always impressive when a band is able to stick together for that long, but it’s even more impressive when it’s able to keep making really good music for that long. 2017’s Light it Up was a great follow-up to the equally fantastic Exister, building on its reinvigorated predecessor by gleefully enacting subtle dynamic shifts to push the band towards the future. The release of a new EP should be a cause for celebration – it’s a taste of where the band is right now, after all – but Shake Up the Shadows paints a portrait not of evolution, but of stagnation.

Shake Up finds frontperson Chuck Ragan sounding both tired and uninspired. “Keep your goals and strength will grow to take on anything by any means” is a really optimistic chorus, but “By Any Means” doesn’t have the oomph required to keep it from sounding puerile, a problem even more pressing in the title track, which gives us the stinker of a line “I want to see that smile radiate for miles/ Wake up and hold that light to shake up the shadows right.” Elsewhere, the “WOAH-OH-OHH“’s of “Rebellion Story” are a painful reminder of how easy it is for the device to make a song seem corny as hell, which I impressive considering how corny the song is even without it: “Shut your mouth and keep your feet moving for a change.” His voice has some punch, but you know that he’s not running at full capacity by any means.

On top of this, they’re wholly forgettable. Through multiple listens, you’ll find yourself in a strange, quasi-Groundhog Day loop where each listen finds you saying, “Oh, this one is really good, I didn’t even realize it” at least once, only to say it again on the next listen. Shake Up is a consistent tone and sound for the whole five songs – chugging guitars, sing-along choruses – which leads to each one bleeding into the next. By the end of it, you’re left with an overwhelming feeling of “Wait, is that it?” They wisely give us the bass-heavy “Denatured” at the halfway point to stop it from being a complete sugar rush, but it doesn’t maintain the cool atmosphere created in the moments when Jason Black’s superb bass skills are brought to the fore.

It’s tempting to give the band a little slack due to the length of the EP, a scant 14 minutes long. Let’s compare Shake Up to a similar five-song burst from a beloved emo band: the Kicker EP by The Get Up Kids, which gives you a five-song look at where the band is now, creatively. While Kicker’s songs were each distinct enough that by the end of its 13 minutes – one minute less than Hot Water Music give themselves – you find yourself dazzled that it was only 13 minutes. By comparison, Shake Up’s lack of dynamics make it feel you’re missing something – and like Hot Water Music is, too.

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