Balance and Composure

The Things We Think We're Missing

Written by: DR on 26/11/2013 14:32:46

Balance and Composure's debut album, "Separation", was an excellent first swing of the bat, but it wasn't without fault. The passion conveyed never flattered to deceive and the song-writing was consistently solid, but the production, courtesy of Brian McTernan, was surprisingly flat and lifeless. Unsurprisingly, then, B&C have returned to producer of the moment Will Yip, who previously worked on their split with Braid and has credits from Title Fight, Daylight, Touche Amore and Citizen from this year alone, for their second LP, "The Things We Think We're Missing".

The production of "The Things We Think We're Missing" is a noticeable step-up from that of "Separation". The sound is a lot thicker, you can now hear that B&C have three guitarists and the drums sound crisp rather than insipid. Indeed, from the moment relentlessly paced opener "Parachutes" comes at you with its slick lead riff followed by its emphatic three power-chorded wall of sound - instantly more striking than anything on "Separation" - you'll be convinced Will Yip was a great choice for the production duties. It's a phenomenally invigorating throwback to 90s alternative rock, too - the likes of which we're well used to hearing from a Will Yip produced album - as angst-riddled vocalist Jon Simmons leads you through soaring highs and brooding lows as he flicks between angst-riddled shouts and clean, nasal-y croons. Capitalising on this momentum, the defiantly forceful "Lost Your Name" combines to make a wonderful opening one-two as it has many of the same qualities: it focuses more on absolute power than subtlety, the intensity and the pace are not allowed to drop too much - just enough to catch your breath - and it has a hook that's desperate to be screamed back to Simmons in the live setting by similarly uncertain twenty-somethings.

In fact, the opening quartet of songs is remarkably exciting. "Back of Your Head" is a collective exhibition in how to achieve a recognisable mood through your song-writing; guitars swirl atmospherically, Simmons' screams throughout are relegated behind his sedately calm clean vocals to add a sense of anxiety, and this time he shines with a quivering, hauntingly delivered refrain of "All you wanted was that feeling". "Tiny Raindrop", meanwhile, drops the screams entirely; it's cleaner in its verses and more melodic in its choruses, showing an ability to pen a song memorable enough that it could easily break into the consciousness of alternative radio stations.

"The Things We Think We're Missing" is meant to demonstrate Balance and Composure's affection for 90s alternative rock, similar to how excellently-produced recent releases from Title Fight, Daylight and Citizen did for them. Will Yip, therefore, should have been the perfect choice at the production helm, as he was for those albums. But what is a thrilling opening quartet of songs only helps to serve in highlighting the deficiencies of the record as it progresses and how difficult it is to stomach as a collective, cohesive whole. The album is consistently and unrelentingly loud, which is thrilling in bursts, but overwhelming considering that the album plays for the best part of an hour. The guitars are overtly prominent, and when they are at full-force you'll feel smothered, like the other elements are straining for any recognition in the mix.

Many of the songs in the second half blend together, lacking enough vigour to individualize themselves from the rest. Certainly, this is not helped by the fact they are all as loud as each other and trying to master the same brooding, dimly lit soundscape, nor are they aided by the occasional lack of genuinely strong melodies from Simmons - like the album overall, he can be galvanizing in bursts, but he generally sticks to the two extremes of his 'clean' voice and his 'loud' voice without ever really exploring any noticeable middle ground or breaking beyond them. In a rare example of him pushing beyond those boundaries, he screams in desperation for the final forty seconds of "Notice Me". Taken on its own, it's one of the most incredible moments of his career so far, but it's the only note-worthy period in a song that's otherwise unforgivably bland and nondescript considering that, by its own title's admission, it wants attention.

But "Notice Me" is far from the worst song on here. In its defence, it's perhaps unfairly judged off the back of the opening quartet of songs, and it at least offers a moment of genuine inspiration - something sorely missed throughout a lot of the second half. "Cut Me Open" is lazily middle-of-the-road and its tempo-changes strip it from any energy it's meant to have, "When I Come Undone" feels like a b-side, the chorus of "Take me back and be my time machine / Show me the sky from a new perspective" from "I'm Swimming" is one of the most wince-inducing lyrics the band have so far penned, and "Dirty Head" feels like an acoustic cut for the sheer sake of it. More than that, though, all of them sound like B&C on auto-pilot, as though they are not pushing or extending themselves beyond what we already knew they were capable of.

However, there are efforts dotted throughout that prove when Balance and Composure are at their best that they are as good as anything the genre has turned out in recent years. At the end of the album we have "Enemy", a near-flawless execution of wave-like song dynamics and everything great about B&C so far, while "Keepsake" is utterly infectious, aided by Anthony Green's cameo and Simmons' more rugged, strained and affected vocal style - more in line with what we heard on "Separation". "Reflection" - right in the middle of the record, and more than worth sitting through the pedestrian efforts surrounding it - executes a level of control seldom maintained on much of this album. There's a brilliance in its earnestness and simplicity, and not only is it one of the best songs on the album, it's one of the best straight-forward alternative rock songs we've heard in a long time.

"The Things We Think We're Missing" is far more polished and assured than its predecessor, and that's why it's not quite as exciting. There was an uncertainty to "Separation", from us listeners who weren't sure if they could build from their immensely promising EPs to produce a consistently great full-length album, and also from the band. That record had growing pains; it was a record of growing up and insecurity and it was rough around the edges, but B&C threw everything at it and pushed their sound and song-writing in directions we hadn't yet heard from them, all of which helped make it such an exciting listen. "The Things We Think We're Missing" contains some of their finest songs yet, but it's frustrating as an album because it largely shows Balance and Composure doing exactly what's expected of them, with the edges sanded down. We've always known they had this record in them, and although Balance and Composure refining their sound will be enough to appease plenty of already-fans and attract fans of the alternative rock scene that were not on board before, the end result is an album featuring great songs without necessarily being a great album.

Download: Parachutes, Back of Your Head, Reflection, Enemy
For The Fans of: Basement, Daylight, Nirvana, Title Fight
Listen: Facebook

Release Date 10.09.2013
No Sleep Records

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