As a thirty-four-year-old at the first time of listening to Touché Amoré, they were a band that would normally have passed me by.
Irrespective of your musical tastes, Stage Four was an album that touched the hearts of the wide-spanning music community. Following the loss of his mother after her lengthy battle with cancer, singer Jeremy Bolm crystallised the emotions of loss and bereavement and committed them to tape.
In summary, Stage Four will go down as one of the most fragile-hearted representations in modern music since the turn of the century.
Less than two years after its release, I suffered my own personal traumas whereby Stage Four became a prominent part of my life. Songs such as Benediction, Water Damage, and Skyscraper couldn’t be listened to without drowning under deluge of sheer anguish. To be honest, nothing has changed on that front – these tracks merely a threadbare security blanket from the bleak realities of past, present and future.
Trauma and the arts have always had a deep emotional connection and always will. Touché Amoré’s Stage Four was less like a scar and more like a raw open wound and those who have participated in close personal suffering will always naturally gravitate towards art of this kind.
Throughout Lament, Stage Four’s excellent follow-up, Touché Amoré explore the themes of a band grappling with the idea of fame, with Bolm crumbling under the weight of being heralded as an emotional crutch for the fans so invested in both he and his band.
In the case of the hardcore scene, overzealous devotees have spent years and decades attempting to convey their emotions in the right manner, which has always been a constant battle. Live shows include fans using these spaces as a physical, often violent, release from their own troubles.
On Lament, Bolm cleverly extrapolates messages that he can’t carry that distant yet complex emotional weight for others. Whether harsh or not, to certain lengths, people need to own their own shit.
Look no further than the buckling title track that brims with sparkling cadence (“I’ve carried the world today/I’ve convinced myself/I drank from the deepest pond/When the ocean did me wrong”), the arching fist-pumping reverie of Reminders (“I’m running on empty/As the world collapses with complacency/To knee-jerk takes and fantasy”), and the scatter-gun anxious surge of I’ll Be Your Host (“I’ll be your host/again my will, I’ll float through your city with my blinders up/It’s not what I would have chosen/It’s not what I want at all/I’m a shell of my former self”).
Despite their anxiety of wrestling with fame and exposure, Touché Amoré have probably reached the top of that particular arc, for post-hardcore in 2020 is unquestionably for the devoted few. Most left-of-centre music is if we’re honest with ourselves. But those devoted followers of Touché Amoré are all in and with Lament, the L.A. collective dissect the burden of such expectations.
Come Heroine starts with Bolm shouting away from the microphone before launching into a feverish scream that erupts across the canvass. “From peaks of blue/Come heroine/With several suns you light the way/When each day begins/And I’m just a risk/Atop of the moon/When I swore I’d seen everything/I saw you.”
Starting in standard pop-punk fare, Feign unfurls with an ocean-sized array of styles, drawing from punk and post-hardcore with crushing rhythms that weave and collide just like those often referenced fans in the circle pit.
Featuring Manchester Orchestra’s Andrew Hull, Limelight is a weary, wandering track that questions why we’ve lost the spark of our past. People deadened by modern culture and its fast-paced-everything-now narratives. “Let’s embrace the twilight/we’re burning out the limelight” delivers Bolm with those heavily branded shrieks.
Like Lament, Exit Row and Savuring are Touché Amoré at full-force, completely firing on all cylinders. Elliot Babin‘s drums fills don’t miss. Clayton Stevens and Nick Steinhardt‘s harmonics capture that sweet spot of melody and nervous aggression. Songs that completely explode in sound, led by Bolm’s majestic vocals that have never sounded better.
This is largely down to Ross Robinson’s involvement from behind the studio glass. Always pitted as a hard taskmaster, Robinson has extracted the best from Touché Amoré on Lament.
While many have claimed that Lament is an album coming out the other side of bereavement, seeing Stage Four as Touché Amoré’s Skeleton Tree and Lament as their Ghosteen, it feels a lot more like an extension of the former.
On Deflector, Bolm gives the world a panoramic view of his current state of mind. “I will test the water/I will dive right in/I’m not comfortable/I rarely am.”
Then there’s the closer, A Forecast. A piano-led stream of conscious lay-it-on-the line lament where Bolm questions those closest to him, putting them under an uncomfortable microscope before finishing with the final verse.
“I’m still out in the rain/I could use a little shelter/Now and then/I’m still out in the rain.”
It’s the most vexing moment on Lament and perhaps all across the band’s discography, taking us back to the pits of despair experienced during Stage Four. Those tenuous weather systems remaining, masked with a new tone of darkness.
Still out in the rain.
That’s the reality and on Lament, true to form, Touché Amoré present such honest appraisals better than most.
Lament is out now via Epitaph Records.