by Brian J. Audette
It’s been just over three years since Quiet Company’s last original full length album, a long time in today’s world of quick fire music releases, but somehow it feels about right. If you had asked me, after the unparalleled success of their brilliant and seminal We Are All Where We Belong if the band could ever follow it up in a way that would leave me satisfied, I would have told you “not likely.” Given its conceptual epicness and heartfelt sincerity, We Are All Where We Belong is a hard act to follow even for a group as talented as this. But absence makes the heart grow fonder and over time I eventually pulled back from listening to We Are All Where We Belong (on a semi-daily basis) and allowed space to clear for the acceptance of something new. After several years that saw a reissue/re-recording of their debut album, various covers and singles, and aggressive national touring, Austin’s burgeoning pop sensation have returned with their 4th LP Transgressor and I’m ready to receive it with open arms.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the literal soul-searching of We Are All Where We Belong and failing to recognize the evolutionary leap that it represented for Quiet Company. Growing in spurts since its inception, the band succeeded in solidifying a sound that mixed the pop rock sensibility of Spoon, with Weezer-style punkishness, and a dash of Neutral Milk Hotel indie folk, all filtered through the soulful exultation of an old fashioned tent revival. While overall less lofty, Transgressor builds upon that already established, solid sonic foundation in a way that is both natural and exciting. Album opener “Seven Hells” stands as a perfect testament to this fact and sets the tone for what’s to come with an airtight rhythm, that church hall organ, and Taylor Muse’s 90’s-rock inspired loud-quiet-loud vocals. Like the rest of the album the song is tightly produced in the best possible way, with every effect, beat, and strum seeming to have been perfectly calibrated to maximum effect. The blazing pop-rock onslaught continues in “The Most Dangerous Game” and “Mother of a Deal” a song who’s down home beat and slight twang culminates in a raucous guitar-heavy outro that’s destined to make this a new live favorite.
As the album approaches its mid-point it seems to chill out a little with tracks like “The Road to Perdition”, “Kindness” and “Understand the Problem”. Lighter than Trangressor’s first third, but still rocking, the later song especially is reminiscent of Summerteeth-era Wilco, complete with slide guitar, vocal harmonies, and Jeff Tweedy-like raw nerve lyrical sincerity. In fact throughout,Transgressor manages to possibly be Quiet Company’s most lyrically introspective work to date. Eschewing the classic love song compositions and grand metaphysical ruminations of past releases, on Transgressor Muse wrestles with the even more personal and perhaps hard to answer questions surrounding fatherhood, spousal responsibility, and the rigors of being in a full-time touring band. He seems to ask “Is this worth it?”, “Is this fair?”, and asks for forgiveness and understanding as he seems both humbled and frightened by what future success may hold for him, his band, and his family. These are ultimately questions that many rising stars have asked before, but there’s always been something about Muse’s writing and full-throated delivery that strikes an immediate and sympathetic chord lacking all pretension.
In Transgressor’s final third “I Heard the Devil Say my Name” returns us to a more rocking tempo and for fans of the band’s previous work, brings the horn section to the forefront in a big way. “Wherever You Take Me” slows things down again with a heartfelt piano ballad laying bare the album’s major themes. And “Midnight at the Dairy Palace” provides the album’s epic and hopeful denouement with the refrain “For once in my life, I know what I want/And I’m tired of waiting for you to finally see/That at the end of the day, til’ the end of our days/You belong with me.”
It’s tough, if often impossible to follow up an album like We Are All Where We Belong and yet, Quiet Company have done it and successfully at that. By choosing to evolve instead of retreading well-worn paths and continuing to write and play from the heart, Taylor Muse, Tommy Blank, Matt Parmenter and everyone else who contributed to Transgressor have crafted an album that owes much to its predecessors, but doesn’t beg comparisons to them. The end result is a work that stands on its own, building upon the existing strengths of a band that has much to prove, but also the chops to do it. While we may never get another We Are All Where We Belong, I don’t think that we need to. With Transgressor Quiet Company have shown that they’re more than just one album and one set of ideas. Transgressor is the beginning of Quiet Company’s next act. Intermission’s over, sit down and enjoy the show.
Brian Audette lives somewhere in Austin within a pillow fort made of broken dreams. He only comes out to see shows and buy beer. He has a surprisingly well maintained lawn and is using it to breed an army of attack mosquitoes with which to take over the world. Brian can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @bjaudette.