Sound — 9
A lot can happen to a band in three years. Between changes in sound, a new label and family losses, Touché Amoré had all of it and some. Back in 2013, the band released their acclaimed album "Is Survived By" (which would be their departure from Deathwish Inc, an independent label run by Converge's Jacob Bannon) and we could already see a new, greater direction coming in their sound, mixing their signature abrasive screamo sound with more melodic guitars and slow passages, while keeping the same heartfelt approach and lyrics. That album definitely opened doors for the band, leading to the praise of critics like Pitchfork, signing for management with Roc Nation (which led to a funny celebrity picture challenge in one of Roc Nation's parties), and tours in different countries.
On October of 2014, Touché Amoré embarked on a tour in Brazil, where I finally had the pleasure of meeting a band that always kept it real with their sound, their show and their public, talking to fans and even watching the opening acts alongside everybody. Everything seemed perfect. But less than three months later we would receive the news that Jeremy Bolm's mother had passed away from cancer. Less than three months after such a good time not only for fans, but for the band itself. It felt surreal and hard to imagine how Jeremy could keep up with such a hard battle and still give all of himself on tour.
Now in 2016 (and under Epitaph Records), it's all shown in their new album called "Stage Four," an ode to the hardship that Jeremy and his mother endured. From the somber first notes of "Flowers and You" we can feel the music will be as heartbreaking as the lyrics, and it keeps that way until the end of the record. And while one might miss some explosive blast beats (saved for one of the last tracks), the instrumentation remains tight as ever, granting space for Nick Steinhardt and Clayton Stevens' best guitar work until now, and even some post-punk influenced sounds and clean vocals.
Lyrics — 10
On the lyrical department we get a glimpse of Jeremy's thoughts and last moments with his mother and while on tour during her last days. All these feelings and moments are also expressed on the album's artwork (created by guitarist Nick Steinhardt and photographer Ryan Aylsworth), which documents Jeremy's mother's house before and after her departure. The artwork also expanded into a pop-up gallery in Los Angeles. The idea for the artwork came when Jeremy went into the house to gather some belongings and the emotional challenge he felt while doing it. It all complements the loss and emotional background that the album carries, depicted sometimes with visceral details on the lyrics and even with some narrative.
We witness the memories brought by songs he listens to and the hesitation to hear his mother's last message on "New Halloween," the moment he is told that she is gone on "Eight Seconds," the questions left unanswered on "Palm Dreams" (which was released as the first single and got a video influenced by the movie "Mulholland Drive"), the memories of when both realized she was in danger on "Water Damage" and his final ode on "Skyscraper" (featuring Julien Baker on guest vocals), which includes his mother's last message. All of it told with the pain that only someone who suffered such loss could express.
Overall Impression — 9
It's hard to pin down how this album ranks in Touché's catalog, and given the context it should not even be necessary. It might be a hard listen to some for the lyrical themes, and it lacks the immediacy of the previous albums instrumentation-wise, which was one of the band's most appealing factors. But still it comes as no surprise, given the more melodic approach they've been crafting slowly on each release. It's also notable the evolution in their melodies and how the tragedy involved made Jeremy grow up as a lyricist. So, while the songs lost some immediate weight in detriment of the context and additional listens might be required for it to grow in some older fans, it comes from a place of loss and change, and the main goal was accomplished. She lives under the lights, and we're all aware of it now.