Nearing the tail-end of their most recent tour, the Pennsylvania-based Balance and Composure visited Launchpad to promote Light We Made, the follow up to the 2013 breakout The Things We Think We’re Missing. The latter brought with it near universal acclaim. Having never seen the band live or even heard their music before, I decided to immerse myself in the groovy alt-rock sound that has won the band so much acclaim.
Honestly, I was not too impressed.
They find themselves among a myriad of other rock bands today who fail to shatter any barriers or create something truly innovative. They are more than musically capable, but, much like the group’s name, there is little that makes them stand out from the rest.
Aggressive tracks like “Parachutes” and “Tiny Raindrop” come off as invigorating, but these more punchy sounds have given way to a calmer, ethereal ambiance on their latest release. This leads to all the tracks on the album coalescing into one gigantic sonic blob. Even live, it became difficult to distinguish one song from the next, each consisting of a similar formula:
Balance and Composure headline the night (May 12th, 2017)
Step 1: Start with spacey guitars. Mix with thumping bass lines and drums that provide a hollow feeling.
Step 2: Add vague, nonspecific lyrics with gems like:
“Girl make it stop, can you feel my bleeding heart?”
Step 3: Build up the energy as though you’re about to play the most epic breakdown ever...until...
Step 4: Let listener down by choosing to play simple prog-rock riffs instead.
Step 5: Rinse, repeat.
This comes to the chagrin of many fans. Ask lead singer Jon Simmons, though, and he'll say Balance and Composure seems quite content with their latest record:
“The main inspiration is that we wanted to make music that we wanted to make," he said in an interview with the Daily Lobo. “Not what anybody wanted us to make.”
Hard to fault a band that sticks to their guns.
Despite my initial feelings, I was hoping the songs would sound better live, delivering the punch lacking throughout the recorded version. Plenty of bands have built their careers around their live shows (e.g. The Stooges), and I expected this to be the case with Balance and Composure. As it turns out, this was only somewhat the case.
Simmons started off the show by letting the audience know right away what they were all about, saying, “Hello, we’re Balance and Composure from Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Let’s Groove."
If there’s one thing the band can do, it’s groove.
“Midnight Zone” kicked off the set, with ambient guitars and vocals at the forefront. In fact, most of the tracks from the new album seemed to have this sound. As the setlist progressed, I got the feeling I had heard this sound before. Not that the band was plagiarizing, but it became very clear that they were pulling heavily from a certain somewhere.
“A band like Radiohead [is] a huge influence,” Simmons said.
Indeed, a concoction of The Bends and In Rainbows influences seem to seep through on the more recent tracks. Given the somewhat mixed reception surrounding the release of Light We Made, I was unsure how a live audience would react, with some no doubt preferring their earlier records. To Composure’s credit, the audience loved it.
Regardless of energy levels, tracks received passionate cheers from fans. Clearly, they saw something in the band I did not. One guy, in particular, bearing a striking resemblance to He-Man, looked like he was about to knock out every living soul within arm’s reach. How much I wanted to dig the music, jump in the middle of the crowd and be absorbed by the atmosphere.
Yet, despite this urge, I couldn’t.
Even live, the tracks failed to pack the punch I hoped for. The way I see it, if you are a rock band playing on the softer side, then your songs better be musically and lyrically captivating — or at the very least catchy. Balance and Composure were none of these things.
Within thirty seconds of each track, I began to wait anxiously for the song to end, so they could hopefully move onto something more interesting. That moment never came.
However, like I said before, the band and its fans seem to care little about the opinions of others. It is the music they wanted to make and, as far as I could tell, it was the music the crowd wanted to hear. The concert certainly did not win over new fans, but I doubt that was the intention in the first place. Being liked and admired seems to come second to artistic authenticity for the boys from Doylestown.
Surprisingly, both opening bands put on great shows.
From Indian Lakes, the second act of the night, seemed to draw a larger crowd than Balance and Composure. After they finished their set, a group of adoring fans mobbed frontman Joey Vannucchi at the merch table. I don’t think I saw any of them for the rest of the show. Also, if Balance and Composure was harnessing their inner Radiohead, then Vannucchi was going for an all-out Thom Yorke impression. The whiny voice crooning against a wall of noisy dissonance screamed Kid A. Despite the obvious influences, they still managed to put on quite a charismatic and energetic show.
I definitely want to give a shout-out to Queen of Jeans, the excellent opening act of the night. Their first couple tracks contained a basic indie rock sound, leaving me worried that I would have to deal with yet another dreamy indie rock sound that seems to open up for every rock show nowadays. However, they kicked the energy into third gear, delivering an old-school rock sound with a new-age edge to it. The closing song was definitely the best, ending with a truly jaw-dropping guitar solo that had me speechless. I immediately went to the merch table to get their EP. Keep an eye out for Queen of Jeans; this band’s stature will only grow with time.
Kyle Land is a music writer for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or uffdaculture.blogspot.com.