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With the start of a new school year, we also see the end of the “summer anthem,” the super-catchy, pop-y, light, feel-good songs that define summers for many. Living in Isla Vista, it’s especially easy to get lost in all the EDM, hip-hop, and pseudo-folk that seem to dominate front porches and back yards; it’s easy to forget that a scene, one that many thought had died out, is still very much alive.
No, not disco. Punk.
Perhaps not punk in the traditional sense, Balance and Composure’s second full-length album is representative of a scene that is still going strong. Post-hardcore, post-punk, emo, grunge-revival: call it what you will, but there are still plenty of bands out there making loud, aggressive, emotionally charged music. The Doylestown, Penn., band’s Sept. 10 release, “The Things We Think We’re Missing,” is just that. Thriving in a local scene that has produced bands like Circa Survive, Title Fight, and Tiger’s Jaw, “The Things We Think We’re Missing,” rips through its 13 tracks with all the energy and angst of a generation that never stopped being pissed off.
The album opens with the single guitar line of “Parachutes,” and the song quickly erupts into a wall of sound reminiscent of late Nirvana and early Sunny Day Real Estate. Singer Jon Simmons alternates between his Cobain-like, aggressive vocals and his haunting, softer side. His juxtaposing emotions work throughout the song, creating a simultaneously heart-pumping and haunting effect.
That extreme dynamic is present the rest of the album as well. Even in their earlier releases, Balance and Composure built their sound off the same soft-to-loud dynamic seen in early 90s emo and, later, on albums like Brand New’s “The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me.”
The altering dispositions are most evident in songs like “Cut Me Open.” The picked, simple guitar melody lingers as the drums tick like a clock in the background. The track immediately picks up with 16 note guitar chords, a relaxed yet driving drum beat, and Simmons’ apprehensive vocals. Simmons screams, “I could have sworn that you knew my conscious was not clean,” inviting you to join him in his angsty and brutally honest lyrical concoction.
As with a lot of the music in this scene, there isn’t much “happy” about it. It certainly isn’t your average pop, but there is something to be said about an emotional expression that is polished and collected, and that is not to say that these musical arrangements can’t be beautiful.
“Reflection,” which is probably the band’s best song on any release, builds on a swinging, major-oriented guitar riff that leads into a lofty yet heavy chorus. As the bass drives the main parts of the song, the layering of guitars stands out. With headphones in and a keen ear, you can follow guitar leads as they pan from ear bud to ear bud. Tracing their methodical melody at that same cut time, you can hear that the swinging refrain remains. Sporadic drums accompany downbeats and the big hits that come on-off, creating auditory tension that mirrors Simmons’ last vocal line, a simple question, “Reflection / who do I really see?”
The album then spirals and gets progressively mellower, reaching its lowest point in “Dirty Head,” a stripped down acoustic song that is anything but the “acoustic ballad” seen toward the end of most rock records. The guitar chords get slammed on in a reverb filled room, as the song’s three verses are broken up by simple “Oh’s” that end when Simmons delivers the final haunting lines: “Lost you in a sea of smoke / Bet you’re glad I finally spoke / Keeping quiet all the time / Dirty head and color blind,” which leaves a ton of room for interpretation.
The “Things We Think We’re Missing” finishes up with “Keepsake,” featuring post-hardcore heavyweight Anthony Green of Circa Survive on guest vocals, followed by the droning, swinging “Enemy,” and both tracks bring back the album’s initial energy. As “Enemy” nears its end, it returns to the wall of sound that it started with before working into a slower, fading collection of feedback and guitar melodies that close it out.
While many familiar with the post-hardcore scene are no strangers to Balance and Composure, “The Things We Think We’re Missing” solidifies them as a scene staple. This is the band’s best album to date. It hits hard and tears at your emotions, but it leaves you with a feeling of resolve at the end, as though things will start to get better. You can catch Balance and Composure on tour in California this September with Title Fight, Touché Amoré, and others, with dates in Los Angeles, Pomona, and Santa Cruz.