Empath, Touche Amore and La Dispute
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La Dispute has never been a band prone to settling. The five-piece from Grand Rapids, Michigan, is responsiblefor some of the most uncompromising, experimental hardcore music of the last decade. From their 2008 debut(in their current formation) Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair, to 2011’s Wildlife,to 2015’s Rooms of the House, La Dispute have continually pushed themselves to find new ways to portraysome of the most difficult and universally affecting subject matters. Casting a wide stylistic net that includes –but isn’t limited to – jazz, blues, spoken word, screamo and prog rock, La Dispute have developed a sound that,while constantly evolving, is unmistakably theirs.A lot of structural change has taken place around the band since Rooms of the House that has forced them toadapt. La Dispute has always kept a tight grip on their own reins. Their first two records came out onCalifornian independent label No Sleep – trusted home to many of the bands they cut their teeth alongside –while Rooms of the House was released through their own label, a subsidiary of Vagrant records. After Vagrantwas bought out by BMG in 2014, the band found themselves looking for a new home, ultimately finding one inEpitaph. Their fourth full-length, Panorama, is the first fruit of this new relationship.Recorded between November 2017 and August 2018, Panorama is in many ways a continuation on a theme. It’sa highly ambitious and deeply affecting body of work that filters narrative storytelling through a personal lens,like a set of Joan Didion essays set to music. It’s heavier and weirder than previous efforts, taking the intensityof Wildlife and the patience of Rooms of the House and using them as pillars upon which to build somethingnew. And, in doing so, they have broken through their own ceiling and set a new one.Panorama has not been without its challenges, both creatively and practically. Only three members were livingin Michigan when they started writing, with drummer Bradley Vander Lugt now living in Australia. Out ofnecessity, the incubation period for ideas began with back and forth over the internet, but the bulk of the writinghad to be done together in their hometown of Grand Rapids. So, finding a time when Brad could make the tripwith his family, they blocked three months off to write and rented a studio space to work 9-5 through the week.For over two months, they worked in separate rooms on individual tracks based on a rough concept and outlinethat Jordan had put together. They had around seven tracks finished when they came to the decision that no onewas happy with them. With only the weeks before Brad was due to fly back to Australia left to work with, theyscrapped everything and started all over again.“In general, I think working apart when we were all there together was a waste, but I think we had it in ourheads that there was a direction we should be going. That we needed to pick up where the last record left off andpush further in the direction of quieter, more structured songs, but that never felt right,” Jordan says inretrospect. “Feels a bit silly to say, but when we started over we all more or less just went by instinct. Whathappened felt right, and that's really where the record started.”Panorama is the spiritual successor to Wildlife in that it takes a snapshot of the city Jordan grew up in. WhileWildlife darts in and out of lives like a news broadcast, telling separate stories that reveal a broader connectionof human suffering, Panorama zeroes in on events that have taken place in a particular neighborhood. Ratherthan looking at the connection between strangers, as Wildlife does, or putting the connection between twopeople in a relationship under a microscope, as with Rooms – Panorama traces the emotional atmosphere of aplace through its own history, like someone rifling through old archives of newspaper clippings. As if, by doingso, they will find the key that unlocks answers to questions about themselves.Most of what happens on Panorama takes place on the route Jordan and his partner would drive from theirhome in the East Hills neighborhood of Grand Rapids to the city of Lowell, where she grew up. Everywherealong the drive are places where, in varying degrees of recency, people have died: a pond where a man drownedwalking home in the winter, multiple places where people crashed driving drunk or were killed in car accidents,and one place where years prior a city worker found a Jane Doe decomposed. Panorama is intended to be awide angled shot of that drive, with the stories of those tragedies becoming focal points that create a largernarrative, but it’s also tethered to reality more than Wildlife or Rooms of the House.While Wildlife and Rooms both saw Jordan playing the role of a fly on the wall – a detached narrator, creatingrealistic fictions through which tragedies are explored – the writing process for Panorama found himinadvertently talking about his own life. The physical act of travelling through those spots every day, withsomeone else, inevitably caused them to take on their own significance. “The more I thought about the storiesthe deeper the relation to her life became, and to our life together, and the more personal the record became,”Jordan says.As a result, Panorama is less lyrically direct than previous efforts. Tracks like “In Northern Michigan” and“You Ascendant” feel more abstract as he leans into the fantastic, otherworldly material that flashes throughWildlife. Elsewhere, more narrative tracks like “Rhodonite and Grief” and “Views From Our BedroomWindow” are interspersed with spoken-word tone poems that disrupt the perspective – viewing their storiesthrough a prism, rather than a single pane.This wandering lyrical approach is borne out of the music itself. When the band opted to scrap their initialmaterial and follow their instinctive push rather than reason their way to the next step, the result was a desire tocreate something “more ethereal, layered, dreamlike, fantastic from a sonic standpoint” than before. You can seethis approach demonstrated beautifully throughout, as the band delves into new sonic territories as well asexpanding on familiar ones.The spectral electro-leaning instrumental “Rose Quartz”, which opens the album, will perhaps come as the mostsurprising to long-time fans, while tracks like “Fulton Street I”, “Anxiety Panorama” and “You Ascendant” willfeel a little more familiar as they drag the darkness of Wildlife into harsher places. Elsewhere, the relaxed,bluesy sound they dipped into on Rooms of the House finds new life in “Rhodonite and Grief” and “There YouAre (Hiding Place)”, while “Footsteps At The Pond” is the closest to straight-up indie rock the band has evercome, evoking Brother, Sister era mewithoutYou.Panorama is perhaps La Dispute’s most diverse album so far, carried by their strength as musicians bothindividually and as a unit. Bradley Vander Lugt’s precise, textured drum patterns; Adam Vass’ sonorous,driving bass lines; Chad Morgan-Sterenberg’s crisp, fretful guitar work – they all react to one anotherinstinctively in a way that feels like a jam session in places, particularly on more sombre tracks like “InNorthern Michigan” and “Rhodonite and Grief”.Panorama is also their first album written and recorded with Corey Stroffolino, who has been a touringmusician with the band since Rooms of the House, taking over from Kevin Whittemore. Their abilities fittogether like a perfect parts of a puzzle, knowing exactly when to settle into the rhythm and when to pierce theforeground; when to build into a cacophony and when less is more.Despite its intuitive feel, Panorama was a difficult project to start and to finish. Although recording for thealbum began in November 2017 and the music was done by April 2018, it took Jordan until August – includingseveral separate solo trips from Seattle to the studio in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania – to finish writing lyricsand tracking vocals. By the end, he was sleeping in a spare mixing room in the studio, spending entire daysmore or less locked in the same room. At one point, producer Will Yip (Turnstile / Quicksand / Tigers Jaw) wastaking naps on the couch in the control room while Jordan wrote and rewrote lines until he was satisfied, fillingseveral notebooks front to back with different versions of the same few lines.“It was… stupid,” he says of the process now. “I spent a lot of time trying to understand why I was having sucha motherfucker of a time, and I’m still not entirely sure I've arrived at the reason. Partly, I think, the musicrequired more from me. The parts are more challenging, more outside of the box then the songs on Rooms inparticular, and I didn't want to short change the work and creativity of my band mates. There's always theanxiety of falling short of them for me, but it felt stronger this time. There's the general anxiety, too, of makingsomething permanent. Of committing to a thing finally and forever and never being able to do anything aboutit.”It can be difficult for punk and hardcore bands in particular to evolve and maintain momentum simultaneouslythe longer they stay active. At a time of economic uncertainty, and with the music industry not being lucrativeas it once was, creativity and reality are often at odds with each other. In spite of this, La Dispute has maintainedthe same attitude they started with. They are a band figuring out, as we all are, how to live meaningfully whilealso trying to make meaningful art without compromise. Panorama, then, is another chapter in a discographythat tells everyday stories in a remarkable way. It takes you deep within the heart of the world we live in, whichmay not always be a comfortable or comforting place to be, but at the very least it’s a reminder that we’re notthere alone.
Formed in 2007, Los Angeles, California's Touche Amore blend jangly post-hardcore with emotionally raw screamo to create their unique sound. Made up of singer Jeremy Bolm, guitarists Clayton Stevens and Nick Steinhardt, bassist Tyler Kirby, and drummer Elliot Babin, the band has a plaintive and emotionally intense sound that blends the influence of bands like Jawbox and Converge into something strangely coherent. Touche Amore made their debut in 2009 with To the Beat of a Dead Horse, an album that would eventually gain the attention of Jacob Bannon's label Deathwish, Inc., which released their follow-up effort, Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me, in 2011, as well as their third album, Is Survived By, in 2013. After finishing up the tour in support of Is Survived By, the band decamped to L.A.'s Seagrass Studio with producer Brad Wood (Sunny Day Real Estate, mewithoutYou, Smashing Pumpkins) to begin work on a new album. The resulting Stage Four was released in 2016 via Epitaph. ~ Gregory Heaney, Rovi
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