Touché Amoré – ‘Stage Four’ Review
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It can be difficult watching your favorite band grow. With each consecutive album fans listen in to see if the group they care for has matured and grown better with time, or if they abandon their past entirely in the name of something new, or if it was merely that initial rush of creative energy that distinguished them. Too many bands fall victim to this last, and it is the rare band that proves to be a more meaningful, more effective unit four albums on. Touché Amoré is that rare band.Stage Four is that rare album — something that builds on the foundation of their best work, and elevates them to new and admirable heights.
This album, like TA’s previous work, is tied together by a central theme. Instead of the effective but somewhat broad themes that came before, this album is about grief – specifically grief in response to the death of lead singer Jeremy Bolm’s mother. This deeply personal trial charts the course for the record, and is just as moving as one might hope. Lyrical content aside, the group’s musical evolution on Stage Four is worth a great deal of attention. Many other albums and artists who address the subjects of death and grief have a tendency to let their music occupy a space of quiet isolation, think Sun Kil Moon (who gets a direct shout out on the song “New Halloween”). But not Bolm and company. This album is big, loud, heavy but never violent, and bolstered by a strength that lifts the listener up, rather than a weight that pushes them down. “Palm Dreams” is a direct descended of the best work on 2013’s …Is Survived By, an album that solidified the group as something more than they seemed – hooky and cathartically aggressive in equal parts. “Displacement” is clear offspring of Parting The Sea Between Brightness and Me – concise and driving with the sharp turns that made so many take notice. It’s everything a long time fan could want, and nice to know the band hasn’t outgrown their penchant for melodrama. Across the album are lyrics so bold, so nakedly emotional, that only Bolm could sell them: “I’m not sure what I believe / I think that’s understood / but I know she’s looking out for me / the way she said she would.” And sell them he does, creating more emotional peaks and valleys than you can count on first listen. On the other hand, tracks like “Softer Spoken” and “Water Damage” have an entirely new feel, proving that the band is not only out to remodel their past, but build something new.
That is perhaps what makes Stage Four so special — it does not compromise in its growth. New doors are being opened, but old ones are not being closed. The tracks are, on the whole, much longer than TA’s past work, allowing each tune and theme to develop more fully. There is bravery in this songwriting, and it is clear that each member is aware of the opportunity this album presents. This is a band that is as good at listening to each other as they are at playing together. The vocals and lyrics — always front and center in TA’s work but never more so than here – are stirring and often heartrending. The increasingly tired diary entry confessionals have been replaced with something more akin to a letter painstakingly composed and destined never to be sent. In other words, the “me me me’s” have been replaced with “you you you’s.”. Bolm is talking to a certain someone, but the direct address also acts as an entry point for listeners, allowing them to get closer to his words and the meaning behind them instead of feeling like audience members at a one man show, relating from beyond some fourth wall. Bolm continues to find ways to keep the form relevant to his experience as he faces life’s bigger problems. Ones we all face in time. There are no answers here, no maps or guidelines when it comes to navigating tragedy, only visceral response. Pure, unashamed human reaction distilled into songs that remind us of the medium’s potential.
Stage Four is an alchemical feat, changing grief into something invigorating and affirming of the nature of love as a thing that inevitably changes and mixes with tragedy, but des not have to end. It’s a powerful statement about a powerful and universal eventuality. This would mean little for a band unwilling to rise to the occasion, to treat this subject with care and artistry. Touché Amoré have proven up to the task, and Stage Four will likely become a classic of their genre. An album that feels urgent, vital, and entirely necessary.