MusicReview

Balance and Composure Proves Slower Doesn’t Mean Softer

Phillip Morgan ‘18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

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When perusing both of Balance and Composure’s LPs (2011’s Separation and 2013’s The Things We Think We’re Missing), one of the first things I have noticed people point out that strikes them as odd is how nearly all of B&C’s catalog is mid-tempo grooving. Like most other strains of punk and indie rock, post-hardcore is typically expected to bring some element of speed and ferocity to the music. However, this Doylestown, PA, quintet is now notorious for having absolutely no high-speed, circle pit worthy numbers in their repertoire. It’s a perceived quirk that has actually helped the band cut a wide swath between their sound and other bands, who have popped up in this new renaissance of all things indie, punk, and emo. Unfortunately, the reputation for a lack of speed is a turn-off for many indie rock fans on the basis that the loss of speed translates to a lack of intensity from the band’s music overall. This is a shame because based on B&C’s example at the Paradise Rock Club on October 2nd, that could not be further from the truth.

From their very first notes, the entire room felt electrified as the crowd swarmed the front of the stage with crowd-surfer after crowd-surfer in response to the band’s crashing guitars for more or less the entire show. Front-man Jon Simmons presided over the chaos with equal parts anguished howling and disparate croon. To say Simmons spews teen angst from his slow-burn howls honestly does not do him justice; it’d be much more accurate to say he speaks from a place of complete desolation, as he covers sobering topics like letting people go in order to make room for self-improvement, without the positive, uplifting filter. And even if between problems with the mics throughout the show, his tendency to forego upper-register vocals in favor of screaming into the void made his exact words somewhat difficult to decipher, though the sheer depth of the darkness in his voice was more than enough to convey his message.

And yet, for all the melancholy, and sometimes utter despair in Simmons’ voice, the rest of the band was nothing but energized. Guitarists Erik Petersen and Andrew Slaymaker (Note: that is now my new favorite surname) traded off slow-burn thrashing chords with somewhat softer, meditative melodies and passages either above or spliced in between, recalling a sound more in line with early Modest Mouse before slipping back into the roaring guitar trudge. Meanwhile, the rhythm section of bassist Matt Warner and drummer Bailey Van Ellis never failed to impress, always aloof enough to keep the spotlight firmly on the guitars and vocals, but fleshed out enough to prove the duo have chops and were far from content with simplistic foundations. In fact, Van Ellis’ drumming, while slightly subdued, is one of the most interesting parts of this band musically, as he overcame the trap of monotonous slow drumming with intricate grooves and surprising fills to distinguish himself amidst the wall of howling vocals and thunderous guitars in front of him.

There was not much in the way of banter from the band. Though, Simmons did take a moment to thank the crowd for coming and making that night the biggest night of their tour, and also taking time to thank the two opening acts for being awesome bands to tour with them. A few times he also made slight sarcastic digs on the audience not being loud enough in their response to his question, “Is everyone having a pretty ok time?” but really they focused on letting the music speak (or roar) for itself. Meanwhile, their stage presence, while not quite the mad thrashing about one usually expects from a punk-based band, was in sync with their own style and carried the same intensity without being too flashy. The only exception was one instance where Simmons pretended to fly around the stage via letting his arms fall outstretched as he swayed across, a phenomenon I can only describe in retrospect as a “Drunk Jesus” impression. That I could not get a photo of that is my only regret from this show, but fortunately he does it in the video for the song “Reflection” below.

The two opening acts, Savannah GA’s Creepoid and Torrance, CA’s Seahaven, were also fantastic and well worth checking out. Creepoid shared B&C’s affinity for slow burners, but they had much more attention on the noise aspect of their sound, complete with fuzzed bass lines and whirring guitar sonics that were almost psychedelic in nature. While they were not the most technical band, they were certainly fun to watch and their sound grew on me by song three. Seahaven’s sound, however, took similar moody melodicism and low-end vocals and applied them to a formula that harkened back to Jawbreaker-esque emo/pop-punk. This proved to be a soundly successful combination for them, and was certainly a nice up-tempo pace change from Creepoid and B&C. (Note: Seahaven also had Bradley Cordaro of Long Island post-hardcore outfit Sainthood Reps filling in on drums, which I personally thought was pretty awesome.)

 

So if you’re a fan of heavier punk music and are cool with all speeds, Balance and Composure is definitely for you, while also having plenty of melody and atmospheric passages for people more versed in traditional indie rock. With vocals abrasive at times but never quite the “screamo” aesthetic of many post hardcore acts old and new, and thunderous but precisely executed music on all fronts, Balance and Composure is poised to become one of the most easily accessible bands of the new wave of emo for newcomers, and certainly one of the most distinctive voices. Make no mistake though, the speed may not get you excited, but the sheer intensity in their sound might leave you and your speakers trembling. In a good way.

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