In 2016, California’s post-hardcore act Touché Amoré released their critically acclaimed record Stage Four. The album’s concept was rightfully hailed as an immeasurably courageous and cathartic expression of grief from frontman Jeremy Bolm, after the loss of his mother to cancer two years earlier.
The three albums that preceded it were not angry, but depressed, lonely, stressed and fearful. Lyrically, they confronted his ever-changing mental health, the strains put on personal relationships while touring, his own mortality, and what legacy he will be remembered for.
It’s been four long years since Stage Four and in this time Jeremy and the band have reflected upon on all of it. Their latest record Lament is the embodiment of that reflection and is by far one of their most ambitious efforts to date, tackling themes of fragility, strength, love, and politics, all the while pushing onward with a fresh sense of hope. It’s a companion piece to Stage Four but can easily stand by itself on its own merits and undoubtedly will act as a gateway for new listeners who aren’t familiar with the band.
Their decision to get the unique skillset of Ross Robinson (At The Drive-In, Glassjaw, The Cure, Slipknot, Limp Bizkit) to mix and produce this thing was a good call. Aside from Robinson’s skills on the mixing board, he’s famous for his legendary studio tactics when it comes to drawing out the most from those who work with him. Bolm detailed on a recent episode of the hardcore podcast Axe To Grind that “He’s gonna get the drummer kicked out or replaced, and he’s gonna make the singer cry.”
Musically they worked everything in from blastbeats on the track “Savoring” to the alt-country pedal steel of “A Broadcast”, to the sombre piano ballad on “A Forecast”. It sounds like a complete mess when reading it on paper but it’s honestly nothing short of a fucking masterpiece when listened to.
The opening track “Come Heroine” is an incredible start to the record featuring backup vocals from Justice Tripp (Trapped Under Ice, Angel Du$t), immediately engaging the listener in true Touché Amoré fashion. The familiar urgency of Elliot Babin’s racing drums, Tyler Kirby’s warm bass, and the bright and harmonious chiming of Clayton Stevens and Nick Steinhardt’s Fender fuelled guitars, artfully dance with one another as Bolm kicks open the door. It’s the closest thing to a love song the band’s released and is more or less an ode to Bolm’s fiancé, actress Ashley Buccille; someone who has helped him weather the storm of his mind through his darkest of days.
“You brought me in. You took to me and reversed the atrophy, did so unknowingly. Now I’m undone.”
Here Bolm touches on themes of change, gratitude, and vigilance. And while no longer in the throes of anger and despair, no longer empty, he finds himself reborn but vulnerable. Optimistic but vigilant. Where once he was guarded, he’s now left open. Like a battered and weathered soul in the arms of a new love; aware he’s come out the other end whole but hasn’t forgotten where he came from.
The haunting guitar tones and delay on the title track “Lament” gave me chills, and upon listening to the first few tracks you could forgive someone for anticipating the next 30 minutes to being more of the same sound, which by any fan would be welcomed. But the band takes a dramatic turn here with such artistic creativity that pays off substantially.
It feels diminishing to pick and choose one’s favourite tracks from any Touché Amoré record because each record is a journey in and of itself. This is why I’ve never really bothered with over analysing teaser tracks prior to any album release. Singles like “I’ll Be Your Host” and “Deflector” ultimately pack a greater punch when encapsulated with the entirety of the record. But there are notable mentions worthy of touching on here that will remain more memorable than others.
The album’s most infectious tune is arguably “Reminders”, which is also their first ever track to have political leanings. Bolm usually saves that space for his other hardcore band Hesitation Wounds, but he was putting pen to paper at the time of President Trump’s impeachment trial. It’s written in a way that doesn’t directly name names but his inspiration came from the feeling of defeat he felt after Trump was let off the hook. He has stated that “It’s the reminder that we need to find the love for ourselves for ourselves. We can’t expect anyone, especially appointed people, to bring us that feeling of being cared for.” The track also features the talented indie-folk singer Julien Baker who I adore, and if you haven’t seen the music video yet, I suggest you check it out. Try and see how many faces you recognise. I counted 40.
“Limelight” features Bolm’s long-time friend Andy Hull from Manchester Orchestra fame and is an ode to the pragmatic benefits of a long-term relationship. The solace you can only find with someone you know inside out and who in turn knows you. Bolm’s naked and vulnerable vocal style has always been part of his appeal, so to be singing with the imperfect strain of Andy Hull is complementary on a whole other level. As the track climaxes, both singers find themselves entangled with one another which is both beautiful and mountainous.
There’s also a screamo country track on this record. Yes you read that correctly. “A Broadcast“ showcases Nick Steinhardt’s newfound skills on the pedal steel. Now, if someone had told me this before listening, I would have most definitely laughed rather than cried. But it works so well and has elements that remind me of Conor Oberst from indie-rock band Bright Eyes. Listen before judging.
One of the most memorable tracks for me was the record closer, “A Forecast”. It’s an open letter to all the listeners who were there with Jeremy through “Stage Four”, and it perfectly ties up all that is covered in the record. It begins with a piano ballad that breaks into this epic post-rock crescendo that stylistically is almost a nod to the track “Condolences” from their second album Parting The Sea Between Brightness And Me. Lyrically, it encompasses everything that makes Bolm one of my all-time favourite lyricists; brutal honesty and not without humour.
“But that’s the way it goes, I’ve healed more than suffered. I found the patience for jazz, I still love the Coen brothers. I’ve lost more family members, not to cancer but the GOP. What’s the difference I’m not for certain, they all end up dead to me.”
Bolm’s extreme sincerity and desperate tone of his delivery is ever present on each track, but this one grabbed me and sent me right back to the start of the record to dive headfirst into it again. This is a feature not unique to Lament but to all Touché Amoré records. Like a well written rap song, you are going to pick up more and more upon every listen, but there’s definitely no missing where Bolm is coming from here.
I honestly don’t have anything negative to say about this record other than it’s not my personal favourite. I came into this thing wary, because I couldn’t foresee how it would measure up to their past records that have reserved special places in my heart for entirely selfish reasons. But Lament has pulled it off. Touché Amoré came through for me again, and continue to push the boundaries of hardcore with every stride, and in ways that other bands can’t.
It's still deserving of AOTY. Perfect gateway album for new listeners.
It’s not the band's best album.