Quiet Company, Transgressor
After four long years, it’s here at last. Seriously, since the first time I heard Quiet Company’s We Are All Where We Belong, I feel like I’ve been holding my breath to see what comes next. Of course, that doesn’t mean the band’s been sitting still the whole time — far from it, in fact. No, they’ve been hopping from one in-between project to another, re-imagining and re-recording debut album Shine Honesty, recording a stellar holiday EP, and playing a mini-tour of dates where they didn’t do their own music but instead playing Weezer’s Pinkerton in its entirety at each show.
However, while all that stuff is/was cool and all, it wasn’t a new full-length. Not until now, that is, with Transgressor. I’ll admit to being a little reluctant, in the end, to even give it a listen — what if it wasn’t any good or, worse still, just kind of mediocre? Belong set the bar really damn high; what were the odds that songwriter/singer/frontman Taylor Muse and his crew would be able to hit that mark twice?
And yet, they have. Transgressor fits perfectly with Belong, feeling nearly like the band’s picked up right where it left off back in 2011, at least on the musical side. Quiet Company roars along at a breakneck pace while never seeming like they’re running, and that’s no mean feat. The music bounces and races, energetic even when it’s moving (relatively) slowly, like the band’s just barely able to restrain themselves from bursting. And then, naturally, they do, exploding in a blast of noise and joy and heartbreak that’s awesome to see/hear.
Stylistically, the band comes off like some never-gonna-happen collaboration between OK Go, Death Cab for Cutie, and The Decemberists, with effusive, addictive pop melodies and honed-sharp hooks grafted onto layer upon layer of gorgeously-realized instrumentation that’s so dense at times that it feels downright orchestral, especially on “A Year in Decline,” which I’m fairly sure actually has a string section.
Despite having pared down the band considerably between releases, from six(?) people to three (Muse, bassist Matt Parmenter, and guitarist Tommy Blank, although synth/keys player Bill Gryta may also still be in the band, as well.), the sound hasn’t shrunk a bit; if anything, it feels bigger, more massive, more all-encompassing here than it has on any of the band’s recordings to date. It’s telling that the handful of quieter, folkier moments on here, particularly the gentle, warmly hopeful “Kindness” or the somber “Wherever You Take Me,” stand out so much from the rest — generally speaking, Transgressor starts with everything cranked to 10 and only goes upwards from there.
Opener “Seven Hells” is impressively meaty and thick-sounding, with a relentless beat and a menacing, severely overfuzzed guitar hum before it crashes into a soaring, defiant chorus, and “The Most Dangerous Game” follows suit, furious and fast-moving with a sing-song chorus and swaying rhythms. Then there’s “Mother of a Deal,” which sees Muse bantering like he’s carrying on both sides of the conversation at once, and where he demonstrates this amazing ability to shift from serene calm to fevered desperation so smoothly you don’t even realize he’s howling.
“The Road to Perdition” is more overtly poppy, a bumping, wide-smiling proto-love song where Muse confidently declares, “I got a feeling you’re my alpha, my omega, and my in-between,” as the song subtly builds into a handclap-heavy tent revival. “I Heard the Devil Say My Name” kicks off with some seriously Rentals-esque synths (always a good thing, in my book), while “A Year in Decline” is jagged and sharp, almost Foo Fighters-ish in its fury.
My personal album highlight has to be the buzzing-yet-restrained “Understand the Problem,” which is seemingly Muse speaking directly to his wife and trying to reassure her that even though he’s not always there, out on the road playing each night in a different city, he’s trying to do the best he can to hold things together. Which, to me, kind of speaks to the overall message of Transgressor as a whole. See, with Belong, it felt like Muse was making a declaration, giving himself permission to break the bonds of faith that had kept him isolated and take a shot at being in love.
With Transgressor, he’s got that love, and now he has to keep it. He’s learning the hard way that while love is amazing and wonderful, it also takes work, and it’s not perfect by any means, not for anybody. No matter how closely linked you are to your partner or spouse or lover, there are always going to be times when you disagree and fight and get mad. It’s human nature; the trick is to learn how to work past it each time.
There’s a lot of uncertainty and fear peeking through here, and hey, that’s absolutely understandable — I know I spent the first half-decade of my own marriage nervous that my wife would wake up one morning and realize she’d made a terrible, terrible mistake. Uncertainty is part and parcel of the deal, and it’s great to watch Muse and his cohorts deal with that as the album rolls, as on the aforementioned “Wherever You Take Me,” which reminds me of fellow Texan David Ramirez’s “Bad Days”; both songs are promises to keep on trying if only the person on the other end can just hold on a little bit longer.
At the end, Transgressor feels like another chapter in a truly wonderful book I’ve only started to read, one that sees the guys in Quiet Company trying to fumble their way along the road of life just like all the rest of us. It’s human, it’s real, it’s heartfelt, it’s ridiculously addictive to listent to, and it’s well worth the wait.
(Feature photo by Leah Muse.)