“A Broadcast” begins with a rare moment of respite on a Touché Amoré album. Soft guitar chords ripple with tremolo then vanish. Weeping pedal steel wafts upward over distant acoustic strums. “It’s that special kind of quiet where one might be concerned,” sings Jeremy Bolm in a softened version of his blunt, frantic bark. “But even with this silence, my voice can be misheard.”
I dunno. Seems to me Bolm’s intentions usually come through loud and clear. With Touché Amoré, he traffics in a harsh, combustible form of post-hardcore in which emotions run hot and melodrama is a renewable resource. The genre tends toward heart-on-sleeve sloganeering that renders a singer’s interior life in biting, memorable outbursts, and Bolm supplies them in abundance. “Been a faulty poet, a personal arsonist/ A last responder to my own self interest,” he self-analyzes on “Deflector,” an early taste of Touché Amoré’s new album Lament that emerged more than a year ago. Bolm interrogates his own neuroses a lot on these fiery new songs, and he rarely leaves us guessing about where his head’s at. As he himself admits at the peak of “Savoring,” one of Lament‘s most intense tracks: “I’ve never been too subtle!”
Subtle, no. Artful, most definitely. Four years ago, on the Los Angeles band’s harrowing career pinnacle Stage Four, Bolm addressed a subject worthy of all his ardor and severity: His mother’s death from cancer and the grief that followed. It was a devastating, enthralling record, heavy in every sense. As his bandmates continued to hone in on a sweet spot between careening full-speed-ahead punk and grand post-rock atmospherics, Bolm poured his heart out with uncommon urgency. “You died at 69 with a body full of cancer,” he railed at one point. “I asked your god, ‘How could you?!’ but never heard an answer.” Elsewhere he turned that accusatory finger back at himself: “She passed away about an hour ago/ While you were onstage living the dream.” Bolm’s brutally honest reflections played like a tour through the many kinds of darkness that can arise when a loved one dies, lending new depth and power to an already formidable band.
Lament is billed as the light at the end of that tunnel, the sound of Touché Amoré finding some kind of hope in this world. That’s true to a point, but the album is not exactly a pivot to optimism. Bolm had to fight hard for whatever healing he’s experienced, and you can hear that struggle in every track. “I talk myself out of myself/ When I’m overwhelmed,” he confesses on “Reminders.” “Is there a way to feel free/ Without being someone else?” As “Feign” shifts into high gear, he howls, “I say the wrong thing at the perfect time!” On the blistering album opener “Come Heroine,” with Trapped Under Ice and Angel Du$t’s Justice Tripp in tow, Bolm expresses gratitude for a woman who helped show him the way forward, but not without self-deprecation: “And I’m just a risk/ A colossal near miss/ Prone to resist what is best for me.” He even shouts out the depressive Counting Crows classic “Round Here” as “an almost perfect song” on “Exit Row,” as if to accentuate what pervasive adversaries his sadness and defeatism have become.
Not that he was exactly vague about his feelings on Stage Four, but Bolm may be particularly focused on clear communication this time around due to the influence of Ross Robinson, the veteran producer known for drawing a thunderous sonic violence out of everyone from nu-metal pioneers Korn and Slipknot to this band’s post-hardcore forebears At The Drive-In and Blood Brothers. He did the same for Touché Amoré here, scaling back the bleary emotional fog that hung over their prior album and presenting the band at its leanest and most ferocious, so that each snare crack, guitar riff, and vocal take lands with visceral force. Yet Lament also finds the band venturing off in ambitious new directions, such as the rich swells of pedal steel and arena-ready “whoa-oh” backing vocals that buoy “A Broadcast” to the horizon line, or the major-key chord progression that makes “Reminders” the first Touché Amoré song you might accurately describe as zippy. As is his wont, Robinson somehow made this band sound harder and catchier all at once.
Beyond his sonic hallmarks, Robinson has a “folklore” about him — “He’s gonna get the drummer kicked out or replaced, and he’s gonna make the singer cry,” Bolm explained on a recent episode of the hardcore podcast Axe To Grind — and his legendarily rigorous studio tactics were just as important to Touché Amoré’s creative process. In that same interview, Bolm recalled his first attempt to let Robinson in on his headspace while working on “Deflector” last year. “Just so you know, our entire last album is about my mom passing,” the singer explained. “And this record is not about that. This is me moving on from that. This is my life since that record.” A deep two-hour conversation ensued when Robinson replied, “So, where’s your mom right now?” Once sessions began in earnest, he forced the full band to run through songs 60 or 70 times just to get drum tracks, fraying Bolm’s voice in the process. Bolm said his words were subject to similar scrutiny: “[Robinson] brings me in and he wants me to read the lyrics to everybody and go line by line and explain what every single line is about. And he’s going to ask a question and a follow-up question and then maybe even ask a member of the band how that line makes them feel. So it’s really, really, really intense.”
Bolm came away from this boot camp with a bracingly honest portrait of the long march back to peace and stability. Beyond the clouds-parting dynamism of the music itself, much of the thrill of Lament is in hearing its narrator gradually turning that corner. Joined by Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull on the anthemic “Limelight,” Bolm comes to terms with the reality that grief never fully goes away. “It’s not how it was, but it’s not getting lighter,” he declares. “The weight is immaculate, the depth is inspired.” The same song boasts one of his most resilient lyrics to date: “The worst’s yet to come, well the worst’s not invited.” The title track builds to a moment of shredded-vocal-cord catharsis as Bolm begins to understand how to express his sorrow without drowning in it: “So I lament! Then I forget! So I lament! Till I reset!” And with Julien Baker shouting along, “Reminders” taps into that Pup zone wherein giddiness and anxiety blur together into a unhinged gang chorus: “I need reminders of the love I have/ I need reminders, good or bad!”
Bolm keeps it real and raw throughout, maintaining an admirable level of warts-and-all vulnerability amidst the clamor. That said, he saved his most piercing lyrics for the album’s most naked arrangement. Album closer “A Forecast” is a stunningly intimate recording, just Bolm and a piano for two minutes before the inevitable explosive finale. In quivering singsong, Bolm updates us on his personal growth (“I found the patience for jazz/ I still love the Coen brothers”) but mostly takes aim at the people who failed to come through for him in his time of need: “On the anniversaries of the worst kind of days/ My phone was mostly silent, one excuse was ‘giving space’/ It’s not like I wrote some lyrics detailing the exact events/ Some profit off the album, most I just consider friends.” The bile keeps flowing as Bolm winds to his conclusion: “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.”
It’s a shockingly bitter note to end on, and Bolm seems to recognize as much; he finishes by admitting he’s not totally sure why he felt the need to go there. But if his spiteful subtweets complicate Lament‘s arc, they’re also among the most stirring moments in an album full of them. “A Forecast” grabbed me and sent me poring through the rest of Lament with a much closer ear, seeking to understand Bolm’s latest complex self-portrait with greater depth and clarity. Mission accomplished, then. There’s no missing where Bolm is coming from here — a juncture nearly as painful as before, still a ways off from triumph, in which every step forward remains hard-won. “I’m still out in the rain!” he roars in Lament‘s final seconds. “I could use a little shelter, now and then.”
Lament is out 10/9 on Epitaph. Pre-order it here.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Future Islands’ reliably hearty synth-rocker As Long As You Are.
• Metz’s latest glorious pummeling Atlas Vending.
• Harpist Mary Lattimore’s calming and splendorous Silver Ladders.
• Grime pioneer Dizzee Rascal’s E3 AF.
• Ride guitarist Andy Bell’s solo album The View From Halfway Down.
• Post-Britpop survivors Travis’ softly pretty 10 Songs.
• TikTok star Curtis Waters’ bleary funk and hip-hop collection Pity Party.
• Norwegian space-rockers Joensuu 1685’s triumphant comeback ÖB.
• The National associate Mina Tindle’s Sister.
• Slow Pulp’s impressive dream-pop debut Moveys.
• Steve Gunn and drummer John Truscinski’s latest experimental effort as Gunn-Truscinski Duo, Soundkeeper.
• Country duo Brothers Osborne’s Skeletons.
• Machinedrum’s electronically inclined pop and rap collection A View Of U.
• Sun Ra Arkestra’s Swirling.
• Patty Smyth’s first album in 28 years, It’s About Time.
• Supercrush’s punk-pedigreed pop-rock set SODO Pop.
• The Goodbye Party’s power-pop return Beautiful Motors.
• Cut Worms’s double-LP Nobody Lives Here Anymore.
• Hundredth’s synth-pop pivot Somewhere Nowhere.
• Brooklyn indie-pop mainstay Drew Citron’s solo debut Free Now.
• Laraaji’s ambient drone album Moon Piano.
• Yo La Tengo’s covers-heavy Sleepless Night EP.
• The Five Finger Death Punch compilation A Decade Of Destruction, Volume 2.