TDP Track-By-Track Review: Balance and Composure – “The Things We Think We’re Missing”

BAC

For fans of: Citizen, Daylight, Seahaven

Living up to one’s name is always a daunting challenge for any artist, especially for those finding themselves caught in the headlights of the “sophomore slump.” However, Pennsylvania-based five-piece band, Balance and Composure, have learned from their mistakes, making sure to tackle this stigma head-on. In what seems an extension of their 2011 release “Separation,” Balance and Composure work to convey the qualities their name implies, creating a new record that combines the best of their influences to create a culmination of the sound they have been searching for. On this new LP, titled “The Things We Think We’re Missing,” released this past September on No Sleep Records, Balance and Composure hit hard with a self-awareness of their capabilities. Under the guidance of multi-genre producer Will Yip, Balance and Composure clearly show on this album they are not a band to rest on their laurels.

The record begins with the hard-hitting track titled “Parachutes, which sets the pace for the beginning of the album. With a clean guitar introduction that leads into a straightforward full-band jam, guitarists Erik Petersen and Andy Slaymaker are able to introduce their melody-making capabilities. From the introduction of the lyrics, Simmons highlights his improving vocal performance, delivering emotionally striking vocals saturated with angst that express his freshly acquired vocal control. The pre-choruses also add a much needed break from the sometimes one-dimensional heaviness this track emphasizes. “Parachutes” acts as a satisfying introduction to the album, demonstrating the band’s new control of structure and cohesion.

“Lost Your Name” comes from a similar vein as “Parachutes,” not expanding much dynamically or structurally from this other track, but still providing its own interesting nuances. The introduction beginning with a slightly-overdriven clean guitar that leads directly into louder section that mirrors the introduction from “Parachutes,” yet this track also emphasizes the  band’s ability to create tangent jams that make sense and bring pure energy. The highlights of this song lie in its chorus, which combines a pounding drum beat and huge chords with a swaying atmosphere.

Feeling reminiscent of “Void,” one of the more haunting tunes from “Separation,” “Back of Your Head” begins with a single reverb-laden guitar that gives way to arguably some of Simmons’ moodiest vocal melodies. Simmons is also able to articulate how much he has improved with his cleaner vocals, losing the less-tamed “whining” of his vocal performance on early releases and replacing it with a more definite vocal maturity. The transition from single guitar to full-band verse with the fade-in distortion is shaky, but the following chorus is somewhat redeeming. The most impressive section of this song lies in the outro as it returns to the slightly distorted clean guitar along with Simmons’ contemplative tone as he eerily repeats, “All you wanted was that feeling” to create one of the album’s most memorable track endings.

“Tiny Raindrop” begins with a feedback-heavy guitar coupled with an acoustic guitar that flawlessly gives way to a full band verse and one of the album’s most memorable choruses. Relying on the typical verse-chorus-verse arrangement, this song has little to offer in terms of new structural experimentation, but the band is still able to create a song that is an easy listen without losing its energetic feel. The track also highlights Balance and Composure’s newfound dynamic mastery. They are able to fluidly combine parts of different volume and force without completely exploiting the idea of the soft-to-loud-to-soft dynamic.

“Notice Me” begins and progresses deceivingly akin to many of the other songs on the record. The verses rely on a return to the clean guitar coupled with the bumping bass and drums that are strongly reminiscent of previous songs. The chorus also sticks to dynamics and grooves that resemble those from songs such as “Back of Your Head.” The chorus also lacks in terms of Simmons’ vocal performance, having a slight tinge of whininess that leaves a desire for a more powerful delivery. Luckily, the bridge undoubtedly redeems this track for the parts where it may have lacked. The unrivaled emotion of this bridge is captured best in Simmons’ incredible vocal control in what might be his most impressive display of yelled vocals on the entire album. Even in their weaker attempts, this band is able to showcase other impressive musical capabilities.

“Ella” acts as a peaceful interlude into the second half of the record, acting as a brief break of serenity and repetition that allows listeners to prepare themselves for the remaining tracks.

“Cut Me Open” creates grooves and vibes that are very unique to previous tracks. The song begins with a slower paced introduction that picks up into a verse producing mellow and straightforward progression. The chorus creates a swaying, “head-bobbing” groove that aptly complements Simmons’ emo-influenced lyrics. The bridge of this track completely switches the feel of the song, exemplifying that Balance and Composure have not lost their ability to toy with sections that build, build, and build some more. Simmons is able to paint a picture of his strained relationship with a higher power as he sings, “Glow, be the sun in the morning / And show me that you are here / Take the time to get to know me / And see there’s no one else.” “Cut Me Open” expresses Balance and Composure’s capacity to maintain their previous talents and expand on them with new concepts.

In the strongest single from this album, “Reflection,” is the epitome of Balance and Composure’s new sound. The beginning of the song leads into a buildup characterized by a jingling tambourine that fittingly gives way to one of their heaviest jams. This track forecasts the ability of Balance and Composure to be wonderfully bipolar within the parameters of a single song, satisfying listeners by conveying different levels of moods. This track stands out for its unforgettably hard hitting chorus and more mellifluous, mellow second verse. At the end of this single, feedback and distorted guitars fade out into the background as listeners soak in the energy.

The following track, “I’m Swimming,” flows but often drowns in the slower tempo verses and a similarly dragging chorus that lacks a distinctive identity. While the track fits cohesively with the rest of the album, it has little to offer that is new structurally, musically, and vocally. Vocally, Simmons doesn’t seem to be pushing himself much on this song either, possibly to reflect his jaded lyrical content on the track. Regardless, the vocal melodies at some parts seem recycled and even rushed.

“When I Come Undone” falls into a similar fog. While the song offers some new aspects to Balance and Composure’s sound, it often gets similarly lost, prolonging the brooding nature of the album’s atmosphere. Regardless, the track does offer an interesting jaunting groove characterized by Matthew Warner’s thumping bass coupled with Bailey Van Ellis’ tom drum-laiden progression. The chorus offers a similar groove that is relatively straightforward, yet still interesting. The track also utilizes excellent transitions from section to section, an element that “Separation” lacked.

“Dirty Head” acts as an interestingly quick transition into the last two songs of the album. This track also offers a much needed break from the ambiguous atmosphere that seemed to be dragging down the album’s progression. In addition, Simmons’ brooding, moaning vocals  successfully fit with the song. The track seems undoubtedly more sad,  and the “oh’s” that Simmons provides on the chorus help it to stand out and paint a haunting, smoky picture.

Balance and Composure return from this quiet interlude with “Keepsake,” one of the most well-written songs on the record. This song goes straight into one of their more rhythmically interesting verses, sticking with the simple repetition of the big chords but allowing Simmons’ vocals to dominate. On the chorus, Simmons’ vocal melodies and gritty articulation soar coupled with Will Yip’s complementary vocal production, creating an undeniably bouncing chorus jam that is memorable and energetic. A unpredicted yet intense tangent jam follows the chorus during which all three guitar players showcase their talents. The lyrics provide a more hopeful perspective characterized by introspection as Simmons exclaims “See harmony” repeatedly on the last chorus . The track ends with an emphasis on the chorus, leaving listeners craving more.

The final track, “Enemy,” begins with an intro defined by a clean guitar, which draws back to earlier tracks, but its easily-appreciated grungy tone distracts from that, leading into a chorus that provides listeners with an enjoyable swaying groove. It then fades into the bridge, the most satisfying section of this song. The following buildup with the eerily reverb-laiden guitar leads listeners anticipating a heavier section, but luckily, in one of the most conscientious decisions on the album, Balance and Composure progress with the calming feel of the bridge to accentuate Simmons’ final lyrics as he bleeds the line, “You always let it rain.” “Enemy” acts as an impressive closer for an overall satisfying album.

On this album, Balance and Composure undoubtedly and actively work to improve on areas that lacked on “Separation.”  The band forecasts a newfound control for structure, but listeners may begin to feel dragged down in the simplicity that characterizes the middle of the record. Lyrically, the album remains impressive throughout, but in some instances Simmons’ brooding tendencies become a little too much to handle, bogging down some tracks. While certain aspects of the album drag, many of the tracks soar, highlighting the band’s progression towards improvement. They are able to create a unique sound that sets them into their own musical boundaries, which is why the bar is set so high. If this album is any indication, Balance and Composure will continue to improve and continue to experiment and consolidate their sound as a group. This band has potential to do whatever they desire and to do it well, which is what defines Balance and Composure’s reputation as an overall impressive band.

OVERALL RATING: 3.75/5

TDP Recommends: “Ways to Go” by Grouplove

A wonderfully geeky tune that can be described best as “feel-good,” Grouplove’s “Ways to Go” is one of the catchiest tracks from their new album “Spreading Rumors.” The band’s grooving use of synth and sweet electronic beats make for a song that is almost as catchy as it is an absolute party. Hannah Hooper and Christian Zucconi’s split vocals express the uniqueness of their vocal style while creating unforgettable melodies. The song is an easy listen, relying on relatively simple structure that complements the piece as a whole. It’s the perfect upbeat song for a Saturday. Dig it, Devils!

Grouplove - "Spreading Rumors"

TDP Music News: 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominees

2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominees

It’s that special time of year, folks. Families are gathering together to cut the turkey. They’re baking apple pies. But most importantly, they’re fighting ceaselessly for which artists they would like to see inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. For the second year in a row, the public has been granted the privilege of casting their vote for what artists they would like best to be voted into the prestiged hall. From now until December 10th, anybody who so pleases has the opportunity to make a mark on music history. 2014 nominees include artists such as Hall and Oates, Nirvana, Deep Purple, and many more. At the end of the voting period, the top five most-voted acts will comprise a “fan’s ballot” that will count towards the final Class of 2014 inductees. All interested can vote here: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/vote-for-the-2014-rock-and-roll-hall-of-fame-inductees-20131016

TDP Review: Moving Mountains (self-titled)


For fans of: Gates, Thrice, Balance and Composure

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As artists progress in their careers, many choose to self-title a record, signifying a creative change, or to express how this creative change represents everything they have worked for thus far. The New York-based band Moving Mountains has done just that. In their follow-up to 2011’s post-hardcore album “Waves,” Moving Mountains returns with their final release before an indefinite hiatus. On this self-titled LP, released this past September on Triple Crown Records, Moving Mountains expresses such a creative change with clarity of vision and precise execution. The band has written a record that can be described as none other than “a Moving Mountains record.”

If there were ever a band less guilty of “releasing the same album twice,” it is Moving Mountains. They change their sound with pride. Whereas their previous releases “Waves” and “Pneuma,” both put out by Deep Elm Records, struck a more alternative/post-rock influenced chord, this new record takes the best of their previous influences and combines them with indie-rock inspirations to create a diverse mood unlike any of their earlier releases. On this album, the  band previously known for aggressive and heavy music shifts to a more balanced and restrained sound. In response to inquiries about the absence of the musically heavy parts that once identified Moving Mountains, frontman Greg Dunn describes how he wanted to make “a record that shared similar sentiment, vibe, and emotion — but with restraint and minimalism… [They] didn’t want to hide behind loudness.” Under producer Matt Goldman (Underoath, The Devil Wears Prada, etc.), Moving Mountains have achieved that goal with great craft.

The record begins with the track “Swing Set,” setting the mood for ten songs most prominently characterized by Movings Mountains’ dynamic capabilities. Many of this album’s songs display fluctuating levels of softness and loud build-ups that serve to highlight the power of the lyrics. In addition to “Swing Set,” tracks like “Seasonal” and “Eastern Leaves” display a similar level of mastery of dynamic structure, creating a song-by-song energy that individualizes the tracks, but also protects the cohesiveness of the record. In addition to these dynamically diverse tracks, songs like “Hands” and “Under a Falling Sky” embody more sentimental, vibing tones, and the track titled “Hudson” picks up the tempo and heightens the volume, reminding listeners that Moving Mountains have not lost their ability to create faster-tempo jams. For listeners hoping for more fast-paced songs, like the first half of “Hudson,” these compositions have little to offer in terms of energy comparable to their previous single “Alleviate,” but these songs redeem themselves in areas left largely untouched in “Waves.”

While Moving Mountains have experimented with different structural styles, the album presents as a culmination of their structural development. This structural evolution peaks in “Eastern Leaves,” a track that is able to couple the calming, minimalist vibes the band desired with non-repeating sections laced with piano and bell melodies that contribute to the song’s intricate and gorgeous orchestration. All of this is done without taking away from the unity of the song’s style and form. Moving Mountains also display a capacity for traditional song structure with tracks like “Chords” sticking closely to verse-chorus-verse arrangement, coupled with some stylistic flair within these traditional structural parameters.

In terms of vocal performance, Dunn expands on his signature breathy vocals that characterize his articulation. To match the sentimentality and soothing qualities of many of the songs, Dunn appropriately emphasizes this quality, and coupled with the vocal production of Matt Goldman, the calming vocal sounds shine in songs like “Under a Falling Sky” and “Stones.” After several songs, Dunn’s voice may leave something to be desired, though, lacking some of the force and abrasiveness he presented in “Waves.” Listeners may find themselves wishing he would push his voice more often, or explore a different octave with his melodies. Lyrically, Dunn is introspective, complimenting the mood conveyed by the musicality of the record. As if verbally describing the songs’ tonalities, in songs like “Hands,” he writes, “Fall back instead / Feel your breath internalize,” mirroring the overwhelming calming atmosphere of the song. Dunn also conveys his emotional vulnerability in songs like “Eastern Leaves,” singing: “Well I hope that you know that I can’t feel a thing/ From this high that I’ve got but everything is burning up/ inside my heart.” Overall, the personal content of the lyrics articulates a positivity of personal acceptance that was lost in the brooding lyrical nature of previous releases.

Perhaps the most impressive parts of this album shine through in the overall musicianship. In nearly every song, they have managed to combine their desire for a more beautiful, melodious simplicity with their mastery of structure to create an overall record that strikes a nerve, or a particular emotion at nearly every turn. The guitar work is stellar in almost every song, showcasing both Dunn’s and lead guitarist Joshua Kirby’s newfound restraint that makes the guitar parts uniform and intricate without ever feeling forced.

Overall, Moving Mountains have accomplished all of their stated goals on this record and then some. They have managed to create an original album, above and beyond their previous releases, while still maintaining their melodic sensibilities, mastery of structure, and ability to create an impressive and simultaneously cohesive record with a wide variety of influences. On this album, Moving Mountains have proven themselves capable of not only outdoing other artists working in a similar vein, but also capable of outdoing themselves. In what may sadly be their swan song, Moving Mountains leave us with this striking album that will be a sentimental reminder of their songwriting potential… unless they make the decision to outdo themselves once again.

OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5