Hardcore has always defined itself as a close-knit community, especially underlined by the youth-crew movement of the early to mid-’80s. The bands often lack pomp and frills, the kids dress down, and together everyone assumes an almost implicit underdog mentality. Because for all its aggression, hardcore is predicated on the idea that no one person is bigger than the team, and that if you want to scream from the fringes of rock ’n’ roll and punk and make a sound, you damn well better do it en masse. Over the course of three full-lengths, that kind of modesty and composure has helped make Burbank five-piece Touché Amoré flag bearers for today’s crop of melodic hardcore bands—and it’s what makes its new album, Stage Four, resonate even louder.
Even since signing with Deathwish for 2011’s Parting The Sea Between Brightness And Me, Touché Amoré have readily resembled hardcore upstarts, marked by frontman Jeremy Bolm’s earnest, hoarse vocals and the band’s prowess at shaping a three-minute song to sound nostalgic on first play-through. The dudes appear grateful for their place in hardcore, and so are on the level with kids equally stoked about their music—not unlike when a band plays on the floor to spite the stage. Lyrically Stage Four is a recounting of the struggles of Bolm’s mother during her bout with cancer and a reflection on her life—and his without her—after she dies at the age of 69. It’s a painful record and one that becomes just as personal to its listeners as it is to its maker, thanks in part to the scene’s connective tissue.
Unapologetically direct, Bolm digs into his relationship sans the heavy-handed metaphors and tropes that would ultimately deflect focus. He wants to understand his mom’s life before, with, and gone from him—rather than use the record as his antidote, or even his therapy. The opener, “Flowers And You,” includes the forthright line, “I apologize for the grief when you’d refuse to eat / I didn’t know just what to say while watching you wither away.” It’s backed by a raining-down of minor-chord guitar melodies from guitarists Clayton Stevens and Nick Steinhardt that are as wistful as those lyrics—the band definitely takes a few tips from emo—but not without the whirr of hardcore.
The fiercest track, “Eight Seconds,” is also one of the album’s most devastating lyrically as it devolves into a dirge of cymbal crashes that bleed over a chilling, guitar line. Bolm recalls purposely missing the call about his mother’s passing while in Gainesville to play Fest 13. The closing line: “Made the call and stared at my feet / She passed away about an hour ago / While you were onstage living the dream.”
Within hardcore and punk the effects of a song like “Eight Seconds” can be fleeting—that world moves pretty fast—but Stage Four reverberates because it’s a concept album, the tracks linear and part of the greater whole. “Palm Dreams” is a proper followup to that final phone call. Bolm wonders why his mom came west in the first place, what she might have been chasing, and how it shaped her. The album’s last quarter resembles more of a countdown to the album’s conclusion, none of the tracks as gripping as the remembrances from the potent first half. But when “Skyscraper,” a duet with singer-songwriter Julien Baker, dissolves into a dissonant, rousing anthem, it represents not only the record’s culmination but also closure for Bolm as the last voicemail from his mom plays while the track fades out.