Opening track Void, with its ominous, dissonant, grunge-like guitars and Jonathan Simmons’ gradually rising vocals is quite a ‘table of contents’ for the rest of the record, a densely-layered, guitar-rich collection of songs that are the perfect continuation of the band’s previous two EPs.
Separation, B&C’s first full-length album released on No Sleep Records, has a dark, emotional intensity to it that is aided by the triple blitz of guitars. Simmons and fellow guitarists Andrew Slaymaker and Erik Petersen create a gripping wall of sound that allows for a simultaneously thick and complex guitar sound, with someone playing a sludgy main riff while impressive background guitars fly around on each track.
The title track personifies Balance and Composure’s trademark sound: a quiet beginning that explodes into a fury of guitars and Simmons’ frequently yelled vocals. Throughout the album (and the EP's) his voice alternates between more subdued singing (such as on Void) to full-on post-hardcore yelling.
Quake is one of the most memorable tracks from Separation, beginning with ethereal guitar chords and Bailey Van Ellis’s straightforward drum work. Shortly after beginning, the energy picks up and the rhythm takes over. The song is a headbanging, high-energy affair with Simmons yelling his vocals, sounding as if he is on the verge of straining his vocal chords to the max. Quake has a great driving melody, which Simmons plays to with his vocals, and set to the cacophonous guitars the song is one of the best songs the band has recorded thus far in their career.
Stonehands could have been recorded in 1994: it's a melancholy, down-tuned song with a slow, deliberate pace that gives it its thunderous sound. Again, the lead guitar riffs are the stars, helping the song stand out from the rest. It’s the kind of song that can easily mesmerize an audience at a live gig due to its quiet, brooding intensity.
I Tore You Apart in My Head transitions into Galena seamlessly, the former alternating in tempos and rhythms effectively (aided by some nice bass work by Matthew Warner) and the latter returning to the high energy of Quake. Galena in particular is also one of the high points on Separation, with each of the band's best qualities on full display.
Fade utilizes an up-tempo rhythm and some fuzzy Nirvana-esque guitar flourishes to great effect. The uneasy feeling is accentuated further by gang vocals that say things like I’m scared of ever finding out/All I’ve lived for was a lie/All the worries and the doubt/You don’t even think straight sometimes. The rising action of the song caps off in some great riffs and passion at the end, making it another standout track.
When the band turns down the guitar fury for songs like More to Me and Echo, the results are just as solid as the rest. The songs have the same passion and wistful expressions of doubt and self-reflection as the more scream-y songs, with Echo finding Simmons doing his best singing on the record. Rather than build up to a loud noise explosion like the other songs, Echo instead stays hushed and muted, and it works well.
The album concludes with the rage-filled Patience (using the soft-quiet dynamic from so many of the other songs) and Defeat the Low, a solid cap to the album that ends with some gentle piano work. The piano, when combined with the slow, ominous burn of the opening track Void, give the album a powerful bookend that will be with you well after the album comes to an end.
With Separation, Pennsylvania-based Balance and Composure have really made a statement. The talent that they hinted at in their previous two EP’s is fully expanded and fleshed out on this record. Their live show was already a sight to behold, a captivatingly intense and mesmerizing spectacle that can only be aided by adding some of these songs to the set.
Separation will undoubtedly end up on my Best of 2011 list come December, as it blew away my already high expectations.
Pick this up (or stream it on their website) if you like bands like Brand New and Thrice or up and comers like Tigers Jaw. You probably won’t be disappointed.
Below, watch a video of the band performing Burden (from the band's split EP with Tigers Jaw) at the Roxy in Hollywood last week.