w/ Circa Survive, Balance and Composure, and O'Brother. $20 adv., $23 doors. 6 p.m., Sept. 13. Toad's Place, 300 York St., New Haven, toadsplace.com
When put on the spot, Jeremy Bolm's first pick is "Undercovers On" by reflective post-hardcore band Rival Schools, but he quickly follows that with Leonard Cohen's "Famous Blue Raincoat." "If it was up to me, I would make everyone just listen to three Leonard Cohen records in a row," the Touché Amoré singer says, "but I don't think they'd wanna sit there for that long."
The subject at hand is music you'd want played at your own funeral. In "Condolences," off last year's Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me — the Los Angeles band's second record — Bolm introduces the topic while carefully screaming in the distance, "If you fantasize about your funeral, I understand. I've been there before. If there's more importance in the music played than who'd attend, we are the same. With heads to the ground as I'm lowered down, there will be a chorus — an overwhelming sound."
Instrumentally, "Condolences" is a Touché Amoré anomaly — a slow piano ballad by drummer Elliot Babin instead of turbulent, lean hardcore — but lyrically, it seamlessly syncs with everything else Bolm has laid down so far. He's fond of big statements, widescreen confessionals and existential questions about where he — and, by proxy, everyone else — stands in this world. Similarly, the band's racket stems from a search for heartrending truth through the use of blasting volume, sub-three-minute track times and tenacious playing. This is war music — not something to be listened to when you're firing from a tank's turret but rather when you're on the wrong end. Your life is almost over, and Touché Amoré's gloomy, ruinous sound is there to join you right at the precipice.
But even with that morose subject matter, Bolm discusses writing "Condolences" with amusement and self-awareness in his raspy voice. (In action, he sounds like the younger brother of Paint It Black's Dan Yemin.) Its inspiration, Bolm says, comes from him often hearin g a song he really feels a connection with and then joking that he'd like to be buried to it. "It's funny: Most people say, 'Oh, this would be my wedding song' or something like that, but for some reason, my brain always seems to go to that place as opposed to a joyous occasion."
Thinking like that is probably why he can pull off this style of music easily. Back in February 2008, when Touché Amoré had their first live performance during a house show in Pasadena, Calif., the band took cues from some of the most tortured underground sounds ever put to tape. "At the time, we would say, 'Oh, we want to be a '90s throwback screamo kinda band, like a Saetia, Orchid, You and I, Neil Perry kind of band, but I think the quote-unquote hardcore kids in us took the bigger step forward where it ended up being a screamo-influenced hardcore band," he says, identifying them as punk, too. A comforting punk "realness" shows its face throughout Touché through the tenderness they project beneath their sound's harshness, the ritualistic free-for-all feel of their live show and how long they spent recording their first two albums (2009's ...To the Beat of a Dead Horse was put down in three days, Parting the Sea in five).
Those same ideas of punk-rooted honesty and youthful idealism are vital to both how Bolm uses his vocals and what effect they have on the listener. "Trying to not sound cliché, but I don't really think about a vocal style. What comes out is just what comes out. I'm not trying to make a voice or anything like that. I yell and that's what happens. I always wanted to sing in a band and I didn't want to waste people's time by just screaming about stuff that I don't have a personal attachment to, so the first time I wrote a song that I was actually happy with, [singing] it just felt natural. It was like a release," he says, before teasing himself for his capabilities. "To be honest, [my singing style is] a cop-out because it's all I can do. If I could actually sing, I wouldn't be in a hardcore band. If it was up to me, I'd be in a band that sounds like the National."