Things felt much different in 2011 when Balance and Composure released their debut full length Separation. Expectations weren’t extremely high. After all, it was just the first record from a handful of teenagers with a frontman who used to be in a band called The Erection Kids. Despite this, Separation enjoyed modest success for both getting a fairly good critical reception and doing well enough commercially as B&C became one of the most popular bands on the No Sleep Records roster. Now, though, there are heightened expectations on the band for their new LP, with an ever-growing legion of fans demanding more than just surprisingly good the second time around. It’s hard to imagine them being disappointed, because The Things We Think We’re Missing is simply a great record.
It must be said that, from a purely objective standpoint, The Things We Think We’re Missing has a decent number of flaws. Frontman Jon Simmons still has a tendency to write lyrics that feel frustratingly vague in terms of subject matter but feel painfully specific whenever attempts at symbolism or subtlety are made. Will Yip’s production is an overall improvement from previous work, but there are still moments where things feel like they’re on the wrong side of the line between sounding intense and raw and sounding noisily convoluted. There are even brief moments where the songwriting itself even feels lacking, with both “Ella” and “Dirty Head” feeling slightly underdeveloped and unnecessary and “Notice Me” being blunt nearly to the point of pure brashness.
To define the album by a few fairly minor problems, though, would be to miss the bigger picture, which shows that Balance and Composure are simply more focused and just really good at making alternative rock music. It’s clear that the band have opted for a less dynamic approach than on Separation and have replaced some of the unconventional post-hardcore with more standardized, steady rock. The results are great, mostly because each track still feels distinctly like Balance and Composure. The noodling that adorns opener “Parachute” and lead single “Reflection” feels immediately familiar and the booming percussion of “Cut Me Open” even harkens back to the band’s EP Only Boundaries.
This instrumental depth is something that feels unique to the band, especially since it is all condensed into otherwise straightforward songs. “I’m Swimming” and “Keepsake” are incredibly catchy songs whose vocal melodies will get stuck in your head all day, yet when listening, it is completely possible to ignore the prominent vocal hooks and get lost in the sea of seemingly endless, layered, and often beautiful instrumentation. These qualities become even more pronounced when the band let themselves slow things down on a few occasions, and this results in fantastic moments like “Back of Your Head” and “When I Come Undone”, which are equally intense and intricate.
In spite of the various individual moments of excellence, The Things We Think We’re Missing’s biggest strength is how well it works as one whole experience. The songs are simply addicting, and it feels nearly impossible to begin to listen any part of the album without experiencing the entire thing. Groups of songs establish chunks of the album that ebb and flow together perfectly, and this makes it possible to overlook weaker moments. Even the sonic imperfections seem like an annoyance when viewed independently, but when spread out, they give the record a distinctively and apparently deliberate human characteristic. When everything is put together, The Things We Think We’re Missing just feels right in a way that’s hard to explain in words.
So where does the slightly flawed success of their sophomore effort leave Balance and Composure? There is no doubt that The Things We Think We’re Missing is a step up from their debut, and it is a very good album, with or without the context that it is still just an early outing from a group of very young individuals. However, this fact does give the feeling that Balance and Composure’s best work still lies ahead of them, and, given how good of a full-length they’ve just put out, it is truly something to look forward to.