Published Oct 06, 2020In 2016, Touché Amoré took a creative leap forward with their distinctive style of emotive post-hardcore for their fourth album, Stage Four, and vocalist Jeremy Bolm dedicated the entire album to mourning the loss of his mother to cancer. He did so with brutal honesty and detail, pouring out his grief for all the world to witness. The result was an intensely cathartic album that marked a defining moment for a band that has long been associated with intense catharsis. That posed a challenge when it came time to make another record: how do you top that?
The answer for Touché Amoré is that you can't possibly match the emotional fury of Stage Four. But what you can do is what you've always done — and do it more skillfully than ever. The Los Angeles band's fifth album, Lament, is solid and noticeably confident. Helmed by legendary producer Ross Robinson (Slipknot, At the Drive-In, Glassjaw), Lament taps into Touché Amoré's core energy and unleashes it with skillful precision. Bolm, meanwhile, wisely shrugs off the pressure to deliver as gut-wrenching of a performance as Stage Four. The shadow of death still lurks in the corners, but Lament is an album about the people who go on living.
Lament distills the sound that Touché Amoré has been honing for more than a decade, while taking subtle cues from influences like Envy, Interpol, Leonard Cohen and Cocteau Twins. "Savoring" and "Deflector" all but perfect the band's shifts from blastbeat frenzies to melodic serenity that they pursued most intently on 2013's Is Survived By. "Come Heroine" perfectly pairs the breakneck speed of 2011's Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me with the post-rock grandeur of Mogwai. Bolm and Andy Hull are a perfect match on "Limelight," a song that reaches the cinematic heights of Manchester Orchestra's A Black Mile to the Surface. Julien Baker returns to lend her voice to "Reminders," an uncharacteristically fun and upbeat song that sounds closer to a punk rock party anthem (with a bridge that takes a page straight from the Latterman playbook) than the funeral march of "Skyscraper," Baker's guest appearance on Stage Four. The addition of Nick Steinhardt's slide guitar — on "A Broadcast," most prominently — lends a bit of an Americana feel that sounds surprisingly right. The band also benefits greatly from Robinson's spacious, layered mix that brings everything into crisp focus.
As always, Bolm's emotional fervor often commands the most attention. Here, he returns to familiar themes of Touché Amoré records — vulnerability, regret, anxiety — while trying to make sense of life as it happens. Bolm doesn't wish to linger on the subjects of death and grieving (especially when it comes to being approached as a bereavement counsellor by others who have lost loved ones: "I don't want this role / I give it up," he professes in the late-album highlight "I'll Be Your Host"). Instead, he's intent on finding comfort and purpose in everything that still remains. "I've healed more than suffered," he sings in "A Forecast," a vaudevillian piano ballad with clear-eyed and unusually playful candour.
While Bolm and company still have plenty to figure out about themselves, Lament finds them at a stage in their career where they know exactly who they are as a band. Stage Four was a momentous release that found ways to musically express its heart-wrenching story. Lament feels more like Touché Amoré's essential form. (Epitaph)