It seems like Tigers Jaw has a bit more of a buzz surrounding them than their comrades in Balance and Composure, so it's interesting that the latter gets top billing on this half-hour-long split. But after listening, and with no offense to Tigers Jaw, as their quartet of tracks are tightly knit and composed, it's clear why BAC headline this octet: Their four contributions are absolutely fucking immense.
When Balance and Composure first howled out the chorus of "Alone for Now" on their first EP, 2008's I Just Want to Be Pure, you could certainly hear something astounding and depressive boiling within the raw emotions they were so capable of conveying. This is where it comes out.
Balance and Composure's influences really aren't any secret to inquisitive listeners. Albums like Small Brown Bike's The River Bed and Brand New's The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me seem to cast omnipresent shadows over what the band does. The former adds Balance's cold, aching layers, especially in regards to the vocals on opener "Kaleidoscope," while the brooding, darkly dynamic missives of the latter provides a stark blueprint, notably on "Burden." But the way Balance finds a way to weave these traits into their own method is simply breathtaking.
"Kaleidoscope" proves how immediate the band can sound, an opening track with a sneering rhythm section plowing out a brief mid-tempo dirge before the full band pounds in and frontman Jon Simmons transitions smoothly from tense narration to cathartic, gravelly shouts. "Burden" opens with a chilling guitar tone and finds Simmons spilling his guts--to a certain extent--over the course of five incredibly dynamic minutes, exploring quiets and louds with intense, genius precision. The burden Simmons speaks of, he never really specifies just what it is--you only know that it's affecting him deeply and disturbingly, and the mysteriousness of it all expresses a personal, traumatic pain with the listener that's only understood better and better as the song progresses. It's probably the best thing the band's done. "Rope" is as aggressive and heavy as melodic, melancholic post-hardcore can get, with warped guitar atmospheres surrounding Simmons' opening yell of "Picture in my head--!" Some bands just seem to waste the potential that lay in a three-guitar setup, but Balance utilize it expertly everywhere, with a sprawling variety of pedals and emotive effects. They're just woven into what makes for an overall resounding, spectacularly crafted side.
It's an extremely hard act for anyone to follow, but Tigers Jaw manage to add more than just a footnote. Though two of these songs are re-recordings--not to mention vastly improved--from the band's first full-length, 2006's Belongs to the Dead ("Jet Alone" and "Danielson"), as a whole this still sounds like a logical progression from 2008's self-titled LP. Sure, they did release that Spirit Desire 7" last year, but the band's stylistic trajectory seems to oddly skip right over that EP, as these songs seem looser and a little less taut than it was. It's also more linear, however, with the band's wall of guitar fuzz running through every song and providing a momentum that pushes through nicely.
It's harder to pinpoint comparisons with these songs than it was with the last LP, which you have to suppose means the band is finding a more original scope to funnel their smoothly sad musings through. The descriptor "smooth" just seems like an apt adjective for the band's take on emo/pop-punk-influenced indie rock (or vice versa), though. They're youthfully uneasy in a manner that flows, offering humbled, mild depression that never becomes too sappy or awkward. Cheekily upbeat keyboard-and-guitar combination melodies perk up in "Jet Alone" to make for some contrast against the song's curt, potentially damning criticisms ("I want to lie like a politician. / And I want to do the things your friends do"), while closer "Dent" has more adventurously yelping vocals; that latter aspect of the band always seemed to be endearing in a paradoxically grating way, but the earnestness comes through clearer than usual here.
Tigers Jaw aren't exactly slacking on this split--they've got four solid sing-alongs of young adult angst. But Balance and Composure blow the lid off the roof, all but ensuring some unreasonably high expectations for a powerhouse debut full-length next year.
Balance and Composure - Kaleidoscope
Balance and Composure - Rope
Tigers Jaw - Lodging