Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN - 13/3
Written by: MIN on 16/10/2016 17:40:57
”She passed away about an hour ago // When you were on-stage living the dream”, is the message that Touché Amoré’s vocalist Jeremy Bolm got after finishing off his set in Gainesville, FL in the fall of 2014. His mother had been dealing with and eventually lost to cancer, causing the American post-hardcore band’s fourth studio album to be titled “Stage Four”. On the band’s previous album, ”Is Survived By”, it felt like Bolm was finally coming to terms with his own insecurity and negative self-image, only to have his reality shattered the following year. Indeed, “Stage Four” is a devastating album that is a lot harder to listen to than any of the band’s previous outings. And it’s more beautiful and crushing than any of them, too.
Bolm’s relationship to his mother is at the center of attention throughout “Stage Four”, and you feel his grief instantly. Album opener “Flowers and You” only lets you breathe for a little while to the sound of a subtle, delicate soundscape before gearing into full throttle with Bolm screaming ”I’m heartsick and well-rehearsed // Highly decorated with a badge that reads ‘it could be worse’”. His way of describing his own feelings is impeccable, and on the album’s eleven tracks he introduces us to several painful memories and moments that he’s shared with his mother over the years — everything from not being able to listen to Death Cab for Cutie’s “What Sarah Said” anymore (on “New Halloween”) to images of her taking too much medicine or dropping coffee cups due to her shaking hands (“Water Damage”). No matter what Bolm digs out of his mother’s old boxes and kitchen drawers, it’s convincingly depicted and utterly heartbreaking.
Instrumentally, the album feels like a natural progression from “Is Survived By”. That album saw the band introducing new elements and a more melodic approach to songwriting, and “Stage Four” is a further exploration of that sound. Several songs here exceed the three minute-mark and thus feel more fleshed out than anything seen on Touché Amoré’s first two albums. Hell, almost every song on the album actually has a chorus! The anthemic guitar riffs in “New Halloween” over the sound of d-beats feels like a continuation of “Just Exit” from 2013, and “Rapture” is so catchy despite its despairing lyrics that you almost feel guilty for bouncing and singing along to it:
I saw the glass as half full // So I felt I could ask for more // I was comfortable // It spilled over onto the floor // I beg to go back to before // With the damage done // And the damage won
Something completely new for Touché Amoré is the heavy usage of clean vocals in several songs. It’s been seen previously by bands in the hardcore scene that they wanted to change their sound completely — most notably the shift between Ceremony’s “Violence Violence” and their newer albums — but on here Touché Amoré manages to pull off an excellent mix of their traditional screamo/post-hardcore, their experimental sounds, and now these new baritone vocals.
“Softer Spoken” is fast and relentless, clocking in at less than two minutes. The first minute is quite similar to the band’s early material, but the second minute suddenly switches sound to a more post-rock driven field that finishes off the song beautifully. The album’s real sucker-punch, however, is the phenomenal second-to-last “Water Damage”. The first minute is slow and somber with Bolm singing clean vocals, but suddenly the guitar cranks up the amp and turns the song into a full-fledged post-rock/post-hardcore masterpiece. The verses center around Bolm shouting over the sound of a beautiful and powerful guitar riff, and at this point the song feels like a clenched fist swinging with full force. But every time Bolm reaches a stop in his script, the fist unfolds itself like a flower, blossoming to the sound of light and dropping guitar notes. It almost sounds like something off a Deafheaven-album with its splendid juxtaposition of blastbeats and lightless-ness, and it makes for a truly remarkable listen.
“Skyscraper” finishes off the album, featuring a duet between Bolm and Julien Baker from the alternative rock band Forrister. The song offers ultimate release on an album that’s filled with dread, both vocalists singing ”you live there // under the lights” as a gesture of remembrance to the dead. It’s a beautiful but different song, and it fits in perfectly after “Water Damage”, getting the listener down on the ground again, reassuring them that Bolm and the band will make it through this, however horrible the ordeal has been. Some long-time fans may feel alienated by the band’s constant change in sound, but rest assured that Touché Amoré still manages to stay true to the their core despite spicing up the formula now and then. “Stage Four” will definitely launch the band onto bigger stages and wider crowds, and deservedly so. It’s a stunning record that rivals its predecessor as the band’s best work yet.
Download: New Halloween, Rapture, Softer Spoken, Water Damage
For The Fans Of: La Dispute, Defeater, Ceremony, Deafheaven
Release date 16.09.2016