I am going to be honest with you guys. I had no idea who Touché Amoré were until a couple of months ago. I guess that is why I did not even bother to check out this new album when it came out in September. It did get some positive feedback though so I decided to check it out as I have been frantically reviewing all the albums I can before my year end list (which is coming at the end of the week!). Even through all this music intake, I had to stop and really listen carefully to Stage Four. Not only because I wanted to adjust to the emo and screamo elements of this record, these genres are not very familiar to me, but also because of the touching subject matter. Since their last album, lead vocalist and songwriter Jeremy Bolm’s mother passed away after battling cancer.
The subject matter is heavy, as is the general sound of this record, making this one of the most difficult listens of the year. Even as someone who has never had to deal with a loss on this level, I found myself feeling some of the pain myself because of Bolm’s passionate vocals and songwriting that leaves no stone unturned. In just a half hour, this album takes us to all of the dark corners of Bolm’s mind as he copes with his grief.
The album takes no time to jump into the pain, with the opener “Flowers and You” starting with the lyrics “I’m heartsick and well prepared,” a perfect summary of the set of songs that are about to play. Bolm sings about the regrets he feels about how he handled his mother’s failing health. He admits how distant he was while she was sick and now he just wishes he had all of that time back again. His screams tell the story better than I ever could, as the pain in his voice fills the song with a deep feeling of sadness.
This track is followed by one of the other most emotionally effective songs “New Halloween.” The song details how Bolm still sees his mother in little things in his life, despite her death occurring a year ago. He references having to skip songs he previously listened to because of the pain they bring to him. He ends the track stating how he still cannot find the courage to listen to the final voice message she left him. The line “I hope you never leave me,” which is shouted at the end really struck me as another brutally difficult moment to listen to on here.
“Rapture” is a more introspective track, with surprisingly few lyrics. The backing instrumentation is great here as Bolm sings about how his own personal perspective has become pessimistic since his mother’s passing. “Displacement” continues to go into Bolm’s mother’s death, stating that she was only 69 when her cancer took her. He mentions that despite having complicated feelings about God, a recent car crash that he survived has him believing she is looking out for him. The lyrics on here are one of the more touching on the album and capture an immense amount of emotion in such a short amount of time.
The beginning of “Benediction” has some quieter vocals from Bolm, as he recalls his feelings during his mother’s funeral. The chorus features verses from the titular song that seems to have been played at the funeral. Bolm sings about talking to his brother after the funeral, and how they try to comfort each other with the sentiment that it will get easier, even though Bolm does not seem to believe it.
“Palm Dreams” is another favorite of mine, where Bolm refects on his relationship with his mother and how he feels he did not know her enough as he could have. He mentions he never knew why it was she moved out to California and now that she is gone, he will never get to hear it from her. If anything, this song will make you think about the questions you still need to ask those who are alive, which is always an important thought to have.
The theme of “Posing Holy” opens up the album to broader audience, rather than focusing on Bolm’s situation directly. He sings about how all people must deal with the pain of loss in their life and the weight of grief is something we all deal with. The line “We’ll find conenctions though extensions to not feel so alone” is a particular favorite of mine. “Water Damages” paints a painful image of a cup that Bolm’s mother dropped when she was sick. He sings that this cup came in a pack of four that is now only three because one of his family members has died. The message might be simple but the image is heavy.
The band departs from their sound for the final song “Skyscraper,” which sees Bolm finding some catharsis in the pain. He sings about taking his mother to the top of the Empire State Building and now he feels her living under all of the New York City lights. The track is simple enough, until the end when the voice message Bolm mentions he could not listen to on “New Halloween” is played to close this record. It shows a small amount of growth and ends this record perfectly.
While a couple songs, “Eight Seconds” and “Softer Spoken” could have been written a little more, they are still fitting and emotionally affective tracks. Overall, this is a painful listen. People need to know that going in. This is heavy in every way an album can be. In sound and themes Jeremy Bolm takes us to dark places of his life and makes it all feel brutally real. If any of this sounds like something you might want to listen to I highly recommend you check it out because it is absolutely incredible and deserves praise.
Best Tracks: Flowers and You, New Halloween, Rapture, Displacement, Palm Dreams, Posing Holy, Skyscraper
Worst Track: Softer Spoken