Let’s face it, for a band to survive they eventually have to change. Around their third or fourth album many groups, even those with a genre-defining early career under their belt, find waves of new criticism drowning them. Good band’s later records almost always fall prey to one of two traps: either they release a carbon-copy of an earlier success or they change their sound so drastically that they lose their fanbase. In the first trap, audiences find the golden glow of the first and second cherished LPs dimmed by repetition. In the latter, audiences, though they may still celebrate the band’s earlier work, pronounce the group effectively dead. A great band, on the other hand, manages to find the third, less-travelled path at this career-ending crossroads. For these great bands their third or fourth album retains all the charm and power of their freshmen and sophomore records but changes just enough to regrab an already loyal listener’s attention. With their first two albums on permanent repeat in every screamo fan’s head, Touché Amoré had to drop a record that could generate excitement, progress their sound and yet preserve their grittily passionate trademark style. Is Survived By accomplishes all of the above with a studied ease and polishes Touché Amoré’s already beaming reputation so that it shines all the brighter.
Both the band’s earlier records,…To The Beat of a Dead Horse and Parting the Sea between Brightness and Me, struggled with loneliness, life’s lack of clear purpose, and mortality. Though broad and popular topics- especially for heavier emotional music- Touché managed to bring a new manner of expression to each. Each gruffly yelled line, pummeling snare hit and gloom-inspired riff rang with a breathtaking and rare sincerity. Is Survived By only heightens the power of Touché’s already epitomized sound but, its the album’s subject matter more than anything that provides a new twist and force to their music. You’ll notice that the name of the album reads like a fragment: Touché Amoré is survived by…what? This question touches not only on problems of legacy, but also of origin. As the single and opening track “Just Exist” quips “I was once asked how I’d like to remembered, and I simply smiled and said, ‘I’d rather stay forever.’ Frontman and lyricist, Jeremy Bolm, never wastes a word on Is Survived By, constantly bombarding the listener with pained confessionals and uncomfortable questions. Tracks likes , “Social Caterpillar,” and “DNA” explore the connection between what made us and what we make, looking for some reason to exist, to love, to sing. As the album closer and title track answers, “This is survived by who held me up, this is survived by who sang the songs…a purpose has made it all worth it.” Though it drudges through the emotional mire of the classic Touché sound, Is Survived By ends on a decidedly hopeful note in perhaps one of the best songs of the year, shouting defiantly and proudly, “this is survived by your love.”
Touché’s lyrical prowess, however, would fall on deaf ears if it were not for their incredible instrumental impact. The band made an important choice on Is Survived By when they asked celebrated emo producer, Brad Wood, to master the record for them. Brad Wood hardly needs an introduction to avid fans of the genre since he earned himself a place in the emo hall of fame after producing Sunny Day Real Estate’s Diary, and LP2, as well as three mewithoutyou records. His distinct ear combined with the blood-quickening, hardcorepunk style speed of Touché’s punishing instrumentation gave birth to a beautifully paced record. Part of the reason Touché Amoré’s first album,…To the Beat of a Dead Horse, received such critical acclaim was their masterful and natural ear for pacing in a genre too often defined by records that grow monotonous by track 5. Tempo changes, mood changes, and shifting guitar tones from grungy to watery clean, make Is Survived By a stunning listen from start to finish. The guitarwork on songs like “Praise/Love” harkens back to “Throwing Copper”, with its funeral-march pace and long ringing notes. Brad Wood and the matured songwriting of the band, however, add a whole new dimension to this record. On “Blue Angels” a featured female vocalist hauntingly backgrounds Bolm’s screams and again on “Non Fiction” a spoken word section during a build paves the way to a climax that is nothing short of moving.
Without a doubt every Touché Amoré fan will hear Is Survived By and know that the band did nothing but get better. No band in the genre has the same command of song-structure and sense of musical impact as Touché Amoré. This record is assuredly their best and that comes from the mouth of a fan who waited patiently for their first release and has eaten up every EP, split and single since.
By: Gavin Buckley