‘Alternative rock’ is an easy genre to attach to a band. What makes a sound ‘alternative’ has become so nebulous and widespread in its meaning that it’s now something of a catch-all term for groups with an acerbic disposition and grungey guitars; an easy label for music that’s trying to do something different.
Now, ‘The Things We Think We’re Missing’, this is the sound of alternative rock, for better or worse.
In this 45 minutes, Balance & Composure have bottled the discomfort, the fuzz and the inward-looking awkwardness that dominated the alternative scene of the previous decade. It’s a cloying, dark tunnel of an experience. The textures are thick, and the lyrics are melodramatic as it slides down a steady spiral into self-loathing, while also evoking a weird nostalgia for first-wave emo and the heavier end of shoe-gaze.
But, what does all this mean? Is the album actually any good? The main strength of ‘The Things…’ lies in its ability to stir a unique emotion in the listener. This music will bring you down, not necessarily into sadness, but to a kind of passive, introspective place. Sunshine and smiles this is not, but if you’re prepared for the ride that Balance & Composure have created for you, then it can be an interesting experience.
Its weaknesses are superficial, but unfortunately very noticeable. Strong melodies throughout and even some deliciously catchy hooks on tracks such as ‘Lost Your Name’ and ‘I’m Swimming’ cannot overcome the generally whiny, nasally quality of frontman Jon Simmon‘s voice. On a listen from end-to-end, his vocals become a test of endurance, particularly on woe-is-me tracks such as ‘Notice Me’ and ‘Dirty Head’, where the angst is applied to the lyrics with a trowel.
If you’re able to move past its shortcomings, however, there’s a lot to like on ‘The Things…’. The lumbering bass of ‘Ella’, the unapologetically scuzzy guitars of ‘Cut Me Open’, the throwback chill-out of ‘I’m Swimming’; there’s something honest about Balance & Composure‘s music. It’s the sound of modern alternative rock with dirt in its eye and a rip in its jeans, ready to spill its guts, whether we want to hear its confessions or not.
It feels like a bit of an anomaly in 2013, the sound of ‘The Things…’ sitting far more comfortably next to the early sounds of Hum and Sunny Day Real Estate than their modern scene contemporaries, but this gives it an endearing charm. An album that’s worth a listen for the wave of nostalgia.
Written by Grant Bailey