Balance and Composure - Only Boundaries [12 inch] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Balance and Composure

Only Boundaries [12 inch] (2009)

No Sleep

Balance and Composure's prior EP, I Just Want to Be Pure was a fairly ambitious yet nervous worship of '90s emo somewhat funneled through the genre's more modern presentations. One sensed the band could go one of two ways from there -- either towards overly precocious and perhaps glossy meandering, or tread more raw and gritty, desperate catharsis. While the band's newest endeavor, the four-song, 20-minute Only Boundaries EP, sort of leans towards the latter, it's really just staking out its own unique and overall mesmerizing territory.

Only Boundaries finds some untracked ground between emotional post-hardcore and emotional indie rock while retaining the atmospheric and grandiose intentions either have ever projected. There's a healthy influence from Small Brown Bike's overextending The River Bed playing a hand here, but Balance and Composure, dare one says it, are executing it better. The desperate longing is clearly replicated, but the vocal delivery and deliberate service of guitar soundscapes feels more realized and dynamic. The songs go through unexpected, complex sectional changes, yet none of the parts feel phoned in. Every portion has its purpose.

The SBB similarities might be most present in opener "I Can't Do This Alone," which jarringly opens with an inordinate, clacking percussion arrangement before warm, resonating guitars on delay enter the fold. Wonderfully laced, backing "ohh"s join the pained chorus; later, there's a guitar effect that actually resembles a trumpet being blared (no such credit exists in the album information, though) -- it's gotta be a loving nod to Neutral Milk Hotel and its placement is shockingly fitting. Vocalists (and guitarists) Jon Simmons and Andy Slaymaker put on their best dresses on the title track, however, alternating between agitated yells and slightly nasal but solidly harmonic narrations, and always with genuine angst pushing their voices along.

"Show Your Face" injects some more straightforward rock vibes while offering a blistering verse-chorus transition, and later on, the EP's most memorable refrain. What sounds like a false ending is really just a pregnant pause that comes two minutes in, a viciously deceptive moment preceding a strong percussive roll and full-band buildup; "I was never about this love" Simmons admits, and he repeats until he's howling it and guitars pound out the air around him. Closer "What's Wrong with Everything" exudes a more optimistic and majestic joy of sorts, a mood that's certainly more uplifting compared to the rest of the EP, but musically just as cohesive. It's got a sure Manchester Orchestra vibe about it, too, especially with the swirling effects and intriciately layered closing anthem ("Hallelujah, I'm coming home!"), further diversifying Only Boundaries' palette.

This is the sort of emotional yet on-the-brink-brilliant stuff bands don't really conceive so early on. While a number of punk and indie-influenced PA bands have shown growth this year, no one's taken a greater, more graceful step than Balance and Composure, and it's chilling to wonder where they could go from here.

Only Boundaries EP