Review Summary: Allow me to introduce you to your favorite album you haven't heard yet.
Austin's Quiet Company have been putting out solid, independently-released albums for over five years now. Constant touring has given them a small but rabid fan base in their native Texas and all over the US. In 2010, they gained even more attention by playing well-received sets at SXSW, and with the release of their new album--quite possibly the most accomplished indie-pop album of 2011--they've ensured that fan base will continue to grow.
Quiet Company is the brainchild of Taylor Muse, whose ability as a songwriter and a lyricist continues to grow with every album. I'll get to the lyrics shortly, but first I want to concentrate on the music itself. Opening track, "The Confessor", lays the groundwork for the entire album. Starting with a slow, quiet guitar strum, Muse's Ben Gibbard-like vocals finally kick in and ease the song into existence. As the song continues, backing "oohs" and "ahhs" begin filling the song out, until the guitar drops completely out, leaving simply the piano and Muse's vocals to move the song along for a short time. Suddenly, the piano is overtaken by a huge horn section, drums, and when the backing vocals kick back in, it becomes this joyous, sing-along anthem before finally coming to a close. And that's this album in a nutshell. Pretty much every song includes everything-but-the-kitchen-sink instumentation that somehow never sounds cluttered due to fantastic arrangement by producer Tim Palmer (whose previous work includes U2 and Pearl Jam). And Muse certainly has a way with a hook, with every song pretty much forcing the listener to sing along. It's all but impossible not to.
Not every song follows the quiet/loud template. Second track, "You, Me, and the Boatman" starts with a peppy, buzzing guitar from the start. Muse even flexes his ability as a vocalist, getting impressively screamy toward the mid-point, before turning on a dime and hitting the earworm of a chorus. "Are You A Mirror" is carried by a gentle acoustic guitar for a majority, before bursting at the seams with hand-claps, horns, and some synths toward the end. They even do a handful of songs that stay quiet. In fact, the one minor issue I have with the album is the fact that the pacing could have been a little bit better. The final third of the album runs a bit on the low-tempo side, but overall it does nothing to harm the album.
Finally, back to the lyrics. Muse has always had a way with clever turns-of-phrase, but it's obvious that lyrically this is his most personal album. Every song deals with acceptance of eventual death, morals and religion, but it's a far cry from a Christian-rock album, as most of the time it's talking about lapsed faith, not depending on a greater power, and making your own way in life. He's got the lyrical strengths of The Decemberists Colin Meloy, in that the whole album follows a thematic package, and with an expanded vocabulary. An example of all of this in one song would be on lead single "Fear And Fallacy Sitting In A Tree", with the lyrics "So let's bow our heads....for something, pray that god is on our side/But the pagan and the pious, they all sound the same/Oh my god! Oh my god! /The problem with me and the problem with you, is that we're all just so scared to die" before repeating "I know my time is coming/can't keep my time from coming", only in a way that makes you feel alright to hear. Death is unavoidable, might as well enjoy our time while we're here. Which is nothing new in music, but that doesn't mean it still can't sound awesome to hear. Which is pretty much the story of Quiet Company. A direct line can be drawn to most of their musical influences easily, but they still manage to sound fresh and distinct. They've worked hard to create a dedicated following, and I think it would be hard for anyone who listens to this album to not become another member of it. I can easily see this album breaking the band to a wide audience. Whether that happens or not, all of that work has still paid off, as anyone who owns this album could tell you.
You, Me and the Boatman
Fear And Fallacy, Sitting in a Tree
Are You A Mirror?
The Black Sheep & The Shepherd
The Easy Confidence