Touché Amoré are, and probably always will be, a band that polarises people. From their sparse and dreamy approach to post-hardcore songwriting to Jeremy Bolm‘s atonal rasp, it’s safe to say that they’re somewhat of an acquired taste. Those with the taste, however, hang on every word this band puts out, and that is unlikely to change with the release of ‘Stage Four’; their most ambitious, experimental, and downright personal record to date.
‘Stage Four’ documents Bolm‘s mother’s battle with, and eventual death by, her second bout of cancer. Now, as a writer you’re supposed to review albums with objectivity. It’s not about you, it’s about the record, but to review this album from that stance would do a disservice to it, and the impact that it’s likely to have on its listeners.
The depictions of grief and loss on tracks like ‘Water Damage’ and the especially upsetting ‘Eight Seconds’ are so intensely visual that I started thinking about my own family. About how my parents aren’t as young as they used to be, about how broken my wife will be when we lose her mother, about my own child and what legacy will be left for him. Real, specific, palpable emotions were inspired, and not many albums have that power.
Another strong theme is guilt; on tracks such as ‘Displacement’, exploring the feelings that came with Bolm not sharing his mother’s religious beliefs, and how this mismatch of ideals troubled him in her final days. ‘Stage Four’ is not an easy listen by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s unfathomable to even begin to comprehend how difficult it must have been to write.
Lyrics aside, Touché Amoré are also extremely gifted songwriters, and ‘Stage Four’ is full of glistening and uplifting chord progressions and driving drums. It’s their least aggressive record musically; not a blastbeat in sight, but it still hits hard in the way fans of the band have come to expect.
Whilst some of the album plays to known strengths, there are also more unexpected moments than on any of their prior releases. The real standout example of this is ‘Skyscraper’, which got mixed reactions when released as a single earlier this year, but makes much more sense in the context of the album. It’s dark and brooding; Bolm‘s vocal style switching from his usual bark to a Joy Divison-esque baritone murmur before being joined by emo/folk singer-songwriter Julien Baker for the haunting repeated refrain of “you live there under the lights”. Throughout the album though there are a lot more serene musical moments than ever before, and a lot more variety vocally. ‘Stage Four’ is easily the band’s most diverse and interesting release to date.
Touché Amoré deserve to be commended for this record which is, in its own right, a masterpiece. It’s still very much a Touché Amoré album, and is unlikely to win over many who weren’t too keen on the band’s earlier material, but it’s safe to say that they remain one of current alternative music’s brightest stars, and right now they’re burning hotter than ever.
Written by Liam Knowles (@wearefixtures)