This is a record of top-notch power pop that’s a strong candidate for one of 2015’s best in its genre.
Transgressor, Quiet Company’s fourth album, is a big, bright collection of hard-hitting power pop. Singer/guitarist/songwriter Taylor Muse has found a near-perfect balance of hummable melody and guitar crunch. It’s the kind of sound that invites comparisons to classic power pop acts like Cheap Trick and Weezer (yeah, Weezer now counts as classic power pop. Feel old?), and their canny use of synths brings to mind the New Pornographers.
First single “Understand the Problem” is an excellent representative for the album. The song bounces from hook to hook to hook with no weak spots. Opening with a catchy guitar-synth duet in the intro, Muse opens by singing, if not quite an apology to his wife for being in a band, then at least an admission of guilt. “If I’m not around than how could I be / Any version of the man you need? / You’re a single mom / And I’m always gone.” This verse transitions into a pre-chorus backed with a candy-coated synth counter-melody before the true refrain drops everything except for bass, drums, handclaps, and harmonized vocals. This arrangement is so smart, as each section of the song emphasizes different instruments. Then there’s the lyrics, which, similar to most power pop, counter the sweet, happy music with angst. But here it’s adult angst, a refreshing change from the teenage perspective so much pop music is concerned with. Not to mention there’s the quiet, almost-whispered outro, where Muse admits, “I wish I was someone else / I wish that you loved someone else.” It’s a devastating sentiment on an album loosely focused on examining Muse’s relationship with his wife.
The rest of Transgressor very nearly holds up to the lofty standard set by “Understand the Problem”. Opener “Seven Hells” rides along on a buzzing bassline in the verses before opening up into a noisy, guitar and organ-backed chorus. “The Most Dangerous Game” finds the band at their hardest rocking, with Muse shout-singing the refrain and the drums and guitars at full volume. Except, of course, for the quiet bridge that provides a perfect respite from the loudness. “Mother of a Deal” is a laid-back, mid-tempo track that feels a bit like a placeholder, at least until the song hits the bridge and the band finds maybe the sweetest, most singable melody on the entire album. Quiet Company is suddenly doing its best Phantom Planet impersonation for an amazing 30 seconds before the song returns to its previous laid-back incarnation.
Each song has its own feel, while still retaining the aforementioned combination of melody and crunch. “I Heard the Devil Call My Name” has a high-energy drumbeat and synth riff, and guitars that effectively mirror Muse’s vocals, while “A Year in Decline” unexpectedly introduces strings about a minute into the song and keeps them around for the rest of the song. It isn’t until the album’s eight track, “Wherever You Take Me”, that Quiet Company slows things down for an actual ballad. At first, it seems like a great choice, because the warm piano chords and aching vocal performance from Muse make the song one of the best on the record.
But “Wherever You Take Me” opens the gate for more ballads, which turn out to not be one of Quiet Company’s big strengths. “Alone in the Dark” starts as another plaintive track, with nicely specific references to Houston’s NASA rocket park and Nashville’s Opryland. But the song quickly becomes a run of the mill indie rock power ballad, with a perfectly serviceable melody and horn and string accompaniments. But it’s so standard in arrangement and form that it never really takes off. The mid-tempo penultimate track, “The Virgin’s Apartment”, is better, but it also feels a bit too familiar without a catchy enough hook or riff to make it stand out. Album closer “Midnight at the Dairy Palace” has Muse finding lyrical catharsis with his wife, concluding “At the end of the day / ‘til the end of our days / You belong with me,” as the song grows from soft to full volume jam. This is also rather run of the mill for a big finish track, but it’s rescued by a compelling chorus melody and powerful drums.
Two included bonus tracks make for an interesting comparison. “Kindness” is a full-on acoustic song, featuring just Muse and his guitar, and it’s very well done. “You Are Destroyer”, on the other hand, is the same sort of power ballad as “Alone in the Dark”, except even less interesting. Apparently Quiet Company does better when they strip down completely than when the whole band works on a quiet track.
The fact that the album loses steam when the band starts to slow things down doesn’t really affect the excellence of Transgressor’s first three quarters. This is, by and large, a record of top-notch power pop that’s a strong candidate for one of 2015’s best in its genre. With any luck, this album will start to make Quiet Company a name that’s better known beyond their native Texas.