Balance and Composure have changed a bit. Although, being from a scene that has always embraced change of this sort makes it seem a little different, almost expected. Post-hardcore peers like Title Fight and Citizen have already ripped this path. One question remains: is Balance and Composure’s new album, Light We Made, a slick and successful movement toward a fresh sound, or is it an awkward stumble?
Before Light We Made, Balance and Composure put out two albums of basically the same music. Although their debut,Separation, does come off a little less mature than the more focused and muscular The Things We Think We’re Missing, they both present similar styles, namely moody post-punk similar to Sunny Day Real Estate, Tiger’s Jaw, or pre-Hyperview Title Fight. Both were produced by noted scene-icon/producer Will Yip, and Light We Made is as well.
Choosing “Midnight Zone” to open Light We Made was intentional. It begins with a synth loop and morphs into a familiar-yet-kind-of-different groove. Strange, clipped vocals swirl in the background. Electronic glitches serve as percussion. The singer is not yelling. This is a statement, and a quality one. “Midnight Zone” is a successful showcase of this new sound. The chords are cream, and the vocals are smooth. The next two tracks, “Spinning” and “Afterparty”, continue in much the same fashion with similar success.
The first stumble is “For a Walk”. It’s reaching for a hard-boiled creepy vibe, but it sounds like a 2000’s Joy Division rip. It’s ham-fisted, so much so that the singer purposely omits a curse word in the song multiple times, leaving the space blank. It’s a cop out. The song also features yelling, but it’s mixed so low it’s as if they are ashamed of it. Later in the album, lead-single “Postcard” actually succeeds at a similar sound. The vocals are clipped and moody, and the lyrics reflect this precisely: “Five lines written on a postcard. Five lines and then it’s over. Five lines sitting on your dresser for you.” Short, Precise, and moody.
The final critique I could offer would be in the mixing. “Fame” starts with a charming, blocky synth riff, but after the guitar, bass, and drums kick in, it’s lost. Later, the synth line comes back in, as if the band is saying, “Told you we changed our sound! We added electronics!” The last track, “Loam”, suffers from mixing in a different way. The song prominently features electronic percussion throughout. In earlier songs, the electronic flourishes were mostly decorative and fleeting. On the contrary, the drums on “Loam” are mixed a little too hot, while there’s a guitar almost hiding in the background. The spotlight on the percussion gets in the way of the song.
The band has been quoted as saying that Light We Made is a “sonic progression” for them, and that’s true. The biggest change here is the complete disposal of yelling as a singing style. The use of electronic percussion and synths does add depth to their sound, but it seems like they’re afraid to go all in, as if they afraid they will lose their identity in the process. Next time, they should go all in.