Over the last decade, the realm of punk and post-hardcore has been carried on the shoulders of the scene’s champions of spastic riffs and drilling blast beats.
The band is fresh off a multi-year hiatus after touring the release of their previous 2013 triumph, the atmospheric and vibrant, …Is Survived By.
In chatting with one of the band’s guitarists, Clayton Stevens, he explained how the time off was exactly what the band needed.
“Personally, it was a really good thing to do,” Stevens said, “We grew up on the road together so it was nice to settle down a little bit and grow a little bit.”
There was a time where the band was seemingly touring nonstop, so it was clear that group made a point to take some time off before hitting the studio again.
“It was nice to establish a home life and grow as people,” Stevens said, “so making music again was incredibly refreshing and fun—the time flew by and we were just excited to be together doing it again.”
Stevens explained how early on in the band’s career, being on the road was their inspiration, but life got very real during the band’s brief hiatus.
Lead singer and scene-god, Jeremy Bolm, lost his mother to cancer on the night of Halloween in 2014. Bolm has a penchant for being confessional in his lyrics—so the only expectation for the new album, Stage Four, was that the vulnerability would turn up to 11.
The opening track, “Flowers and You,” starts the album with a wash of clean guitars reminiscent of “Ripple Water Shine” on Pianos Become the Teeth’s Keep You album, which is also about the loss of a parent. But quickly thereafter, the distortion and comforting chaos of guitarists, Stevens and Nick Steinhardt, welcome us to another vibrant Touché Amoré record.
This is an important first track because it sets the stage for how Bolm presents the processing of his grief—lines like, “I am heartsick and well-rehearsed—highly decorated with a badge that reads, ‘it could be worse,’” “I am homesick and living in the past,” and “I took inventory of what I took for granted and I ended up with more than I imagined.”
Bolm doesn’t relent in terms of his unbridled honesty, which is a common thread throughout Stage Four—not only lyrically, but also musically, as the band presents an evolved sound ripe with experimentation and maturation.
Those familiar with Touché were accustomed to a band that released 20-minute albums, and rarely approached the 3-minute mark for a song. Until …Is Survived By, the band had only hit the 3-minute mark once. Stage Four is over 35-minutes in length and features six of eleven songs that are well-over 3 minutes—so this is truly a remarkable exploration for the band.
This is a new Touché Amoré—a well-rested Touché Amoré. And beyond all expectations, it is a more restrained Touché Amoré.
“I really do feel [this album] is a natural evolution,” Stevens said, “not a lot of it was a conscious thing—our main goal was just to make a dynamic record.” Stevens went on to explain how the members of the band listen to very different kinds of music. He said this makes their creative process more interesting because a lot of their writing is created in the moment—so experimenting with a riff or structure is fun for them.
“New Halloween” starts with the powerful line, “somehow it’s already been a year,” a line that resonates with me specifically because exactly a year ago, I lost my father to cancer—so this album was certainly released at a serendipitous time. But that’s the reality of losing a loved one—life does have to continue, and often time passes faster than you realize.
One vibrant moment on the album is something that often goes hand in hand with any music lover who experiences trauma—the act of skipping songs because they’re too hard to hear.
On “New Halloween,” Bolm references “What Sarah Said,” by Death Cab for Cutie, and “I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love,” by Sun Kil Moon—two tracks about losing a loved one that are understandably hard for anyone having lived that sort of loss. But most understandably so for Bolm. This is the sort of detail that makes this album so necessary for those in grief.
Losing a loved one makes you think of the littlest things—flashbacks to the moments you took for granted, immortalizing the things you could’ve said, or simply appreciating the idiosyncrasies of the person you love.
These details make an album live forever. Stage Four is full of these details.
The band erupts into “Rapture,” which carries perhaps the bands catchiest chorus to date—one that carries the remorse of feeling selfish for the comfort we can feel when things are going well in our lives amid the struggles of our loved ones.
Yet, the beckoning of the lines, “Like a wave, like the rapture—something you love is gone, someone you love is gone and leaves you fractured.” This was the first moment in the album where I welled up a few tears. It’s this sort of brutal honesty that makes Bolm such an important voice in music today. The reality of loss is universal and yet, we live so much in our heads that we don’t think to share the struggle of such a loss.
But Bolm brandishes vulnerability as his weapon of choice in a battle that may never end.
“Displacement” presents another aspect of the album that finds Bolm’s lyrical approach to the album was to take a deep look at his relationship with his mother’s Christian faith—something he often undercuts with lines like, “You died at 69 with a body full of cancer. I asked your god, ‘how could you?’ But never got an answer.”
Bolm then soon follows up with contemplation on how his mother looking out for him is perhaps her plea for him to keep his faith in something higher—if it even truly exists, something he later quips.
But on “Benediction,” we hear Bolm reckoning with the faith that was clearly very important to his mother. The chorus of the song is an actual benediction, “May the Lord mighty God bless and keep you forever—grant you peace, perfect peace, courage in every endeavor.”
“Benediction” also marks the first moment we hear a Bolm sing in his lower register—a post punk vibe with a hint of Matt Berninger of the National.
Stevens explains that Bolm made the decision to sing on a number of tracks on the album because he simply didn’t feel like yelling over certain parts. Again, this is the sort of detail that shows the band has made many creative strides over the years.
“We’re gonna keep trying to experiment with these sounds,” Stevens said, “doing the same old thing can get boring.”
The most “traditional” Touché track on the album is “Eight Seconds,” which logs in at merely 92 seconds long, and feels as if it would fit comfortably on Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me. The song tells the story of Bolm getting the phone call that his mother had died—it happened while he was performing on stage. This track is perhaps the most heart-breaking for long-time listeners of the band, who know that Bolm lives for the stage, but to realize that he was amid losing his mother at such a powerful moment in his life makes this yet another detail that makes this album so essential.
“The band exists as a family together, so we are very involved with each other’s lives,” Stevens said in response to the loss of Bolm’s mother, “so we knew that this was going to be a central topic for this album, and we all wanted to put our best foot forward for how he wants to grieve.”
Since the album centered on the loss of Bolm’s mother, there was a clear concerted effort to support him throughout the process.
“We were doing it all together,” Stevens said, “and [Bolm] was being honest with what he wanted to get out of it.” It is obvious that the process of writing and creating Stage Four was incredibly cathartic for everyone in the band.
“We just approached the album being completely honest with ourselves in the moment.”
This honesty is blatant throughout “Palm Dreams,” which was the lead single from Stage Four, which focuses on Bolm digging through the things in his mother’s home—which, for those of us who follow Bolm on Instagram, he was very open throughout the process of cleaning through his mother’s home—sharing pictures, trinkets, and stories with his followers. It was powerful and eye opening to watch the grieving process in what felt like real time.
The next two tracks, “Softer Spoken” and “Posing Holy” are reminiscent of that traditional relentless hardcore sound of which the band gained its acclaim. “Softer Spoken” finds Bolm searching for some form of peace or absolution from a feeling of being broken. While “Posing Holy” rips through Bolm’s frustrations of faith once again—and trying to reason with the inevitability of loss and despair.
Both of these tracks are pivotal to dictating the emotions that truly connect with loyal listeners of the band. It’s refreshing to hear someone the people we admire validate our struggles and experiences with multiple forms of depression, anxiety and insecurity. It humanizes them and us. It makes us all feel a little less alone in our discomfort. And in that common ground, we are able to find comfort.
We find Bolm’s post-punk croon once again in “Water Damage,” which is a dark horse for my personal favorite track—one that replays a frightful memory of a night when Bolm’s mother took the wrong dose of medication. Having been around a dying parent who has done something similar, it is terrifying to see someone you love in such a disoriented state. The track is gloomy, tragic, and absolutely beautiful and perfect for this album.
The finale of the album is “Skyscraper,” a track that features the fast-rising acclaimed singer songwriter, Julien Baker. “Skyscraper” in its minimalist lyrical approach recounts Bolm’s mother’s dream of visiting New York City one day—something he was able to make happen for her. He wheeled her around the city (something the band re-enacted for the above video). The lines, “you live there—under the lights” echo throughout the track, creating this silo effect of noise and elegance, a phenomenon made possible with the airy teeming of Baker’s vocals with Bolm’s guttural exploit.
Stevens, a fan of Baker’s music, said that the band was virtually determined to find a place for her on the album.
“We were hoping there was a spot for her to be on the album and there was,” Stevens said of the collaboration.
The album is a true triumph of post-hardcore, furthering the genre beyond the landscape that once existed. Stage Four is the banner album for loss, discomfort, anger, frustration, and absolution. The band blends atmospheric and chaotic noise for a well-balanced listen that trumps any of the band’s previous works—an unexpected, but very welcome feat.
[Note: Having lost my father exactly a year ago, this album came into my life at what could be considered the perfect time. Much of the commentary of surviving loss and grief is connected to my struggles with losing my own father. He fought lung cancer for 12 years and there were moments—much like those Jeremy references on this album—where we thought we were in the clear in terms of his health. But he never truly recovered. Watching a parent deteriorate is one of the hardest things a person can experience. With this, I hope Jeremy knows he isn’t alone in his grieving process. And I thank him for this incredibly important and emotional album. – Craig.]
Touché Amoré is about to hit the road with their old friends in Culture Abuse—a band that released a great new album this year called, Peach, on 6131 records. Peach is an album about resistance and living a chill life in the face of a society that is anything but chill. Culture Abuse embodies the counter culture in their brand of lively punk tunes. Their inclusion on the tour is incredibly apt and will certainly recruit a number of new fans.
The spastic and lively math-rock trio, Tiny Moving Parts, which released its outstanding new album, Celebrate, in May on Triple Crown Records, will also support the tour. Celebrate is certainly an album of the year contender from these Minnesotan party-boys, as it combines mathy grooves with pop punk energy. Tiny Moving Parts puts on one helluva show and sandwiched between Culture Abuse and Touché, this will be a tour full of nonstop action and amazing tunes.
“I am really looking forward to this tour,” Stevens said, “I’m excited to play some new songs out there. Making an album takes so long that by the time an album is completed we are ready to get out there and play some shows.”
Get your tickets fast because you will not want to miss this tour.
Full tour information below.