REVIEW: TOUCHÉ AMORÉ – STAGE FOUR (2016)
The death of a parent. A “rite of passage” as described by Touché Amoré frontman Jeremy Bolm on “Posing Holy,” off the band’s new full length, Stage Four. An “initiation conducted by bedside.” On their fourth full-length, the Southern California quintet tackle the most personal content imaginable, the death of Bolm’s mother Sandy in the Fall of 2014, and do so triumphantly, showing unprecedented growth as songwriters and a fearlessness in the face of unfathmable loss.
Since 2008, Touché Amoré have navigated the more melodic corners of the post-hardcore genre, taking to the road constantly. In doing so, they’ve built a rabid and loyal fanbase, playing basements, VFW halls, and increasingly bigger venues over the last 8 years. With the label support of Epitaph Records, and management from Jay Z’s Roc Nation team, Touché Amoré have rose to the top of the genre, cemented by the release of art-punk masterpiece …Is Survived By in 2013.
Bolm delivers crushing and emotive lyrics throughout Stage Four. Cliches like “heartfelt” and “tearjerker” barely scratch the surface of the emotions contained therein. Faith is a common theme throughout. On “Flowers and You” Bolm apologizes to his mother for “the grief, when you spoke about belief.” The funeral hymnal “may the Lord, mighty God, bless and keep you forever” provides the chorus to “Benediction.” After a car crash leaves him relatively unharmed, Bolm asks his mother “maybe that was you, asking me to keep my faith” (“Displacement”). Bolm struggles with the questioning of his own faith in the face of his mother’s death and does so openly and honestly.
“New Halloween” closes with Bolm singing “I still haven’t found the courage to listen to your last message to me.” Later, on the album closing “Skyscraper,” we hear that last message. It’s hard not to be brought to tears in this moment, a seemingly mundane message about picking up a prescription at CVS. Memphis songwriter and 6131 Records labelmate Julian Baker joins Bolm in singing “Skyscraper.” The two play well off each other, Bolm’s singing voice leaning towards the baroque baritone of The National’s Matt Berninger while Baker’s breathy folk delivery floats around his.
When Bolm describes the moment he was told his mother had passed, first avoiding the call so he can play a show in Gainesville, on “Eight Seconds” it is nothing short of heartbreaking. Bolm was “on stage living the dream” when his mother passed. Right where she would have wanted him, I imagine.
“Rapture” and “Palm Dreams” skew poppier than previous Touché Amoré cuts, with Bolm singing in a fashion we haven’t heard from the frontman before. And as it turns out, hidden under the articulate, youthful screams and angst found on the band’s previous three records, is a fairly decent singing voice. “Palm Dreams” is the album’s standout track, a perfect Touché Amoré song, showcasing everything that makes the band what it is: powerful and personal vocals, guitars influenced equally by melodic pop and distorted hardcore punk, and anxious, feverous drums.
It’s easy to ignore the music with lyrics so powerful but make no mistake, guitarists Nick Steinhardt and Clayton Stevens, bassist Tyler Kirby, and drummer Elliot Babin are at their best throughout Stage Four. Babin tempers his penchant for breakneck beats with modern rock groove, while Steinhardt and Stevens push songs in new melodic directions, at times bold and anthemic, but always giving Bolm room to maneuver.
In a genre beset by boys pining for girls, Bolm mourns the most important woman in his life, showing genre peers what real emotional music is. Stage Four is not only the pinnacle of Touché Amoré’s career but arguably a defining album of the genre, a timeless and touching masterpiece.