Published Sep 14, 2016On the second track of Touché Amoré's emotional and complicated fourth effort Stage Four, vocalist Jeremy Bolm addresses his late mother — as he does throughout the album, written out of grief, guilt and regret over her passing due to cancer two years ago — and tells her, "I haven't found the courage to listen to your last message to me."
The album is a passionately written and deeply moving meditation on loss, and Touché Amoré have never been better as a band. Bolm's throat-shredding yell tears through most of these lines, reminding us that although there's change here, this is the same band that wrote three blistering post-hardcore records before this. "Displacement" is classic Touché Amoré, gracefully toeing the line between melody, heaviness and breakneck speed while Bolm belts out lines that read as if they were pulled straight from a tear-stained diary: "You died at 69 / With a body full of cancer / I asked your god how could you / But never heard an answer."
With this album, Touché Amoré will draw some comparisons to Pianos Become the Teeth, a group with whom they split a seven-inch in 2013, and whose albums have also mourned the sickness and death of a parent. Pianos took a plunge two years ago with Keep You, an excellent third record that eschewed their chaotic screaming and instead found singer Kyle Durfey singing in a rich register over the band's more measured and calming tones. Touché haven't gone the same distance here, but Bolm does sing on several songs and the band's instrumentation is notably more lively at times and dulcet at others. There are some growing pains — Bolm seems to channel influences like the National and Leonard Cohen as he sings, but sounds likely to benefit from more experience — but it's still a refreshing evolution of their sound.
Some other standouts include "Skyscraper," an echoing, slow-building ode to New York City featuring Julien Baker that vaguely resembles the Cure or the Smiths. "Palm Dreams" is an energetic tune with sombre, moody choruses that best capture Touché Amoré's new sound. In one of the album's most heart-wrenching moments, "Eight Seconds," Bolm is at his most brutally honest as he recalls playing a gig in Florida and putting off a missed call he knew would tell him his mother was gone: "I crossed SW 2nd Street / Made the call and stared at my feet / She passed away about an hour ago / While you were on stage living the dream."
At the end, we hear her last message. It's mundane and ordinary, yet symbolic and cathartic. "I'm going to drop off a prescription at CVS, so I probably won't be home when you get there, okay?" It's a very normal message to get from one's mother — one to which you may not even bother replying. But Bolm would love to have that phone call back. He would love to have the "probably" back in that sentence. Stage Four is his way of learning to let go. (Epitaph)