By Eli Shively, General Manager
Key Tracks: “Displacement,” “Eight Seconds,” “Skyscraper”
Touché Amoré aren’t a pretentious band by any means, even though they may come off as such to some. Although some core fans lamented the more drawn-out, reverb heavy direction they took their last full length Is Survived By, it remains almost impossible for the melodic hardcore quintet to write a song that doesn’t feel fully communicable and down to earth through and through.
That’s why when it was time to write a record about the untimely death of his mother, vocalist Jeremy Bolm didn’t bother with any unnecessary cloaking of the subject material. He revealed every detail, in one way or another, through the well-spoken yet brutally honest lyrics that have become his band’s major calling card over the years.
Stage Four, then, is somewhat of a concept album. The songs all revolve around the singular event of Bolm’s mother’s death, but aren’t in chronological order — each one looks at a different aspect of what happened and how Bolm, his mother, and those around them were affected. Aside from the death itself, a few themes help tie it all together: Guilt, lack of faith in God, mental illness and what we do to keep those things at bay.
All of these may seem kind of overdone, perhaps even played out, to the avid music listener — and while that may be true to an extent, Bolm’s ability to draw from real, powerful experiences makes everything feel believable and fresh. On “Displacement,” he talks about walking away from a car accident without a scratch, wondering if “you” (his mother) was somehow watching over him. “Eight Seconds,” the emotional peak of the record, describes the night she died. “She passed away about an hour ago,” Bolm screams, “When you were on stage living the dream.” You can tell he’s holding back tears. It’s absolutely gut-wrenching.
With Bolm’s experiences and emotions in the spotlight, the rest of the band does a good job of steadily offering solid instrumental support throughout the album. Elliot Babin, one of the most consistent drummers in heavy music, always deserves a shout out — but aside from his spastic, skinny-armed thumping there’s nothing that really stands out. Nor should there be: On a record like Stage Four, the music itself kind of takes a backseat to the lyrics and the subject material. It’s almost necessary.
On the record’s closer, “Skyscraper,” Bolm and former 6131 labelmate Julien Baker sing a haunting duet — “You live there / Under the lights,” a tribute to both New York City and the notion that someone’s influence on the world and the people they loved can still thrive even after they’re gone. It may come off as a bit cliché, but there’s a reason clichés are clichés. The same reason a record about death, a topic that’s been done and redone again and again, can still ring as original and powerfully true: For many, it’s all too real.