Balance and Composure is obsessed with the ’90s, and that’s the biggest compliment and criticism of the band’s debut full-length, Separation.
The group, led by vocalist/guitarist Jonathan Simmons, is not one to shy away from paying homage to its influences. Often times, Simmons’ vocal work displays an off-kilter pattern that would make Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum blush. On the musical end, the guitar work—courtesy of Simmons, Andrew Slaymaker and Erik Peterson—often references some of the band’s influences. “Galena” opens with a subtle wink at Jawbreaker’s “Chemistry,” before blasting into a riff that would feel right at home on a Nirvana record.
Yet, this is not to say Balance and Composure are merely aping some of the ’90s premier acts from a few different genres. The group brings in Small Brown Bike influence that was apparent on its earlier EPs, and in doing so creates an album that is closely akin to Brand New’s moodier work. It is the post-hardcore and emo influences the group integrates that allow for it carve out a sound uniquely its own.
Tracks such as “I Tore You Apart in My Head” and “Quake” prove how hard of a punch the band can pack, and it’s where the Small Brown Bike comparisons are most apt. The band’s rhythm section, comprising bassist Matthew Warner and drummer Bailey Van Ellis, never overstep their bounds. Warner and Van Ellis find a way to mix crushing aggression with delicate nuance throughout each of Separation’s 12 tracks.
While Simmons vocals lead the band into interesting directions because of his aforementioned Magnum-worship, it is the lyrics themselves that bring in a much darker element to the band’s work. “Can’t see past the bright light up in the sky/Never got it quite right/Never know, never try,” from “I Tore You Apart in My Head” is only a small sample of the intense scrutiny to which Simmons subjects himself, and others, throughout Separation.
Proving that Balance and Composure can create a full-length album that delivers on the promises of its earlier EPs, Separation avoids the missteps of those earlier works—general lack of focus—and helps the band create an identity all its own.
While the quintet is not afraid to display its influences, it could easily become a mess if performed by a less competent group. Instead, Balance and Composure utilizes the strengths of each in order to present a whole that is uniquely its own.
Separation does have its weak spots, but they are few and far between. When the band does falter, it is never for long, as even weaker tracks such as “Progress, Progress” have incredibly bright spots that make it impossible to skip over.
Balance and Composure have been creating deeply textured and cathartic songs for some time, but Separation shows they can maintain that power and progression over a 48-minute runtime. It’s a stunning debut that leaves only one question: Can Balance and Composure top it?
Balance and Composure – Separation Tracklist:
- “I Tore You Apart In My Head”
- “Progress, Progress”
- “More To Me”
- “Defeat The Low”