Stage Four - Touché Amoré
By Barnaby Britten
“It’s hard to write content,” Jeremy Bolm once screamed out on Touché Amoré’s third LP, Is Survived By. It is, then, with horribly cruel irony that the loss of his mother to cancer in 2014 stripped him of his contentedness and provided the impetus for the lyrics and title of the band’s latest release, Stage Four. But I really doubt that this album was less hard to write than Is Survived By, because the absolute, all-encompassing pain that one feels when a loved one dies, particularly a parent, is laid bare on this record.
Album artwork design by London-based collage artist Anthony Gerace, who was inspired by the "emotional challenges" that frontman Jeremy Bolm faced when organising his deceased mother's belongings, left at her home. For the album's release, Epitaph Records and Touché Amoré combined to organise a 3-day pop-up gallery that would house 28 of Gerace's original artwork for the record. Photos by Joe Calixto.
Bolm’s vocals have always been the most distinctive part of Touché’s sound, visceral and emotive, but always intelligible. His lyrics and rhymed delivery have also always been disarmingly honest and straightforward. This has never been more of an asset than on this particular record, because the lyrics and vocals on this album are what really make it. So if you do check this out (and you should), listen to it with your undivided attention and with the lyrics in front of you. Then prepare yourself as you vicariously grieve.
Stage Four also sees Touché Amoré continue to expand the melodic half of their melo-core sound. Firstly and most noticeably with the inclusion of clean vocals. Jeremy’s singing voice can at first be quite jarring. It is, if nothing else, unusual, especially coming from Touché. But the deep, calm, almost-spoken passages on the album really do work well, allowing Jeremy’s screams to be moments of catharsis. Instrumentally as well, Stage Four sees Touché start where they left off with Is Survived By, with many a twinkly lead and bright riff alongside the more abrasive side of their sound. Album closer “Skyscraper” takes this melodic aspect to its wonderful extreme, combining Jeremy’s subdued cleans at the beginning, with his passionate screams and the delightful singing voice of Julien Baker in its climactic refrain: “You live there, under the lights,” one of the few lyrical moments on the album that you could call positive.
Grief is of course a complex process, which involves a spectrum of emotions, and Jeremy takes us through this spectrum in candid and affecting detail. Guilt, for example, has a large part to play on this record, particularly on “Eight Seconds” which details the heartbreaking moment when Jeremy was told his mother had passed away while he was performing at a festival in Gainesville, Florida. Regret, too, rears its head on “Palm Dreams”, where Jeremy asks his mother the questions he didn’t have time to when she was alive. But there are really too many moments like this to list; it is no exaggeration to say that this album comprehensively showcases what a human being might experience from the time of a loved one receiving a stage four cancer diagnosis to the months and years succeeding their death. From struggling to find the words to say to your mother when she refuses to eat, to trying to reconcile your atheism with her belief that there is a heaven, and everything in between.
Touché Amoré have created a meaningful piece of art with Stage Four, as beautiful as it is sorrowful. It is the combination of a band striving to grow and explore sonically, and the truly sad story of a son losing his mother to cancer. And if you’ve got any questions you’ve always wanted to ask a loved one, I suggest you go ahead and ask them.