Touché Amoré have been one of the most key punk bands on the planet over the last decade. Their fusion of post-hardcore, emo and indie has made for a basis for them to deliver some of the most emotive and cathartic music in recent times thanks to the simultaneously punchy and tranquil guitars and frontman Jeremy Bolm's relatable, introspective lyrics as well as his highly passionate voice he screams them with. In the time between 2013's 'Is Survived By' and this new record 'Stage Four', Bolm's mother tragically passed away due to cancer. Naturally Bolm has used his platform to release his pain over his loss, making for one of the most personal and emotional albums you'll hear in 2016.
Kicking off with 'Flowers And You', immediately you can tell this record is going to detail Bolm's sorrow over his mother's death with lines like 'I apologise for the grief when you refused to eat', whilst ¬¬¬-flowery guitars set to lively rhythms back up his delivery. This song's climax is riveting, the way the instruments take it up a notch in tempo whilst Bolm is expressing how he regrets not making the most of even just simple conversations he's not going to have anymore.
'New Halloween' continues the theme with loss 'somehow it's already been a year', 'coinciding with the guilt that I wasn't there'. Sonically this song is punchy whilst having a shade of fragility, like you'd expect from Touché Amoré, but there's a certain bronze to the guitars this time around, like the music is in a vintage filter, as if the sonic side of this album is trying to fit the years of Bolm's mother's life.
'Rapture' is great example of how Touché Amoré are delivering some of their most tender and sweet guitar work to date. It's still intense in how hard it's played, it has to be given the album's themes, but there's some beautiful, sunny notes that help prevent this album from being wholly bleak. With this album being something of a tribute to Bolm's mother, just like at a wake, there's focus on the beauty of one's life as well as the sadness that they're gone.
'Displacement' sees Bolm ponder on the possibility of an afterlife and if his mother's watching over him, for instance in the line 'last week I crashed my car, and I walked away unscathed, maybe that was you, asking me to keep my faith.' Despite 'Stage Four' having one very specific theme, Bolm is able to take it in many places. Bolm's lyrics have always been introspective in Touche Amore and this album is like he's using music to explore every aspect of how he feels about this one tragic thing to have happened.
'Palm Dreams' sonically is one of the punchier moments on the album with firm, muscular riffs. Lyrically, Bolm is yelling lines like 'What was it that brought you west, I assume I can only guess' and 'Was it all the palm trees?' as if Bolm is questioning what made his mother make the decisions she made in her life and how he's never going to be able to know for sure now she's gone. Truly heart wrenching stuff.
Closer 'Skyscraper' is the most post-rock thing Touché Amoré have ever done with hazy, tranquil guitars that take flight due to tremolo picking and some pretty delicate vocals from Julien Baker. This track's a touching end to a record so focused on the loss of someone, the way it's so heavenly, like it's accepted what's happened. Then there's repetition of 'you live there, under the lights' along with a reference to New York city.
Similar to how David Bowie's 'Blackstar' used music to give listeners an insight as to what it's like to face death earlier this year, 'Stage Four' is a record which gives you the sensation and all the feelings as well as stages that come with losing someone whether you've not yet lost anyone so close to you, or if you have this is an album you will relate to closely. On top of that Touché Amoré have delivered a stunning tribute to Bolm's mother, which she would bound to be proud of and it makes for another classic from one of the most important bands of our time.
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