Before you read anything past the first sentence of this review, it’s important to know that Transit earned everything I’m about to write about them.
We naturally hold great bands to higher standards. It is, of course, completely normal to expect a good band to write a good record. So when Transit wrote Listen and Forgive, by all accounts a brilliant album, they subjected themselves to this higher standard. They did something great, and with that comes the expectation of continued greatness. It’s because of this band’s boundless potential and proven track record that their new releases are evaluated with the kid gloves taken off. I know how good Transit can be. I’ve heard it. And because of that, I can say Young New England is the most shocking disappointment to come from the wave of pop-punk bands that Transit has grown up with.
The (very last part) of that last sentence shouldn’t be taken too seriously. We all know Transit doesn’t play pop-punk anymore and we’re totally cool with that. We have watched and heard this band progress markedly across several releases over the past few years. Keep This To Yourself was good, but was overshadowed by the quality of Something Left Behind. Then we saw even more growth from the two-song Promise Nothing 7” before Listen and Forgive completely shattered the mold. A couple things those releases all had in common? For one, they were all excellent. And secondly, they all showed a purpose and direction from a band that had begun to stand out amongst its peers.
Transit has, undoubtedly, earned the faith of their fans. They’ve earned the expectation of greatness. It’s hard to earn that, and it’s something many bands will never claim. This record wouldn’t be a disappointment if I wasn’t expecting something so good.
But Young New England is such a poor record, and shows so much negative growth in Transit’s songwriting, that it absolutely deserves to be dubbed a regression in every sense of the word. It’s hard to write good music on a consistent basis and that’s why I have grown to love this band so much – they’ve always shown they can grow, adapt, and at the same time, execute a vision with fantastic precision and talent. Until now. The songwriting is worse than ever, the vocals follow suit, and most disappointingly, the musicianship is flat and uninspired.
It’s most definitely a bittersweet thing when I say that the first two songs released from this album, “Nothing Lasts Forever” and “Weathered Souls,” are the best tracks on this record. It’s bittersweet because those songs aren’t very good, and they don’t hold a candle to the best tracks on this band’s last LP. The former offers a healthy hook with uplifting guitar work, while the latter borrows melodies from Listen and Forgive even while the production sounds smothered and stale. This is a decent first song to listen to because the verses present an insight into just how bad Joe Boynton’s vocals sound on this record. He’s never been a great vocalist, but has always sounded great in the studio – at least good enough that vocals were never a troubling point. Setting aside the song’s infectious chorus, it should be about a minute shorter and otherwise comes up completely dull, which is a theme throughout Young New England.
The title track comes third in the tracklist, which I suppose is a good thing, because at least we hit the low point really early on. The song features a bizarre-sounding gang refrain of, “If you’re too drunk to walk along the streets of cobblestone / You know Boston never drinks alone.” I mean…forget the fact that the lyric is sort of confusing. This is the most disappointing song on what will be the most disappointing album of 2013. More overarching themes begin here: Out-of-key vocals, musicianship that constantly trips over its own feet, borderline terrible production, and songwriting so bad that you wonder what this group of talented young men were shooting for while crafting this album.
Throughout most of this record, we experience flashes of something decent surrounded by an overwhelming amount of boring. “Sleep,” “Hang It Up” and “Summer, ME” are tracks that don’t deserve to be finished, while songs like “So Long, So Long” and closer “Lake Q” offer merely fleeting moments of enjoyability. It doesn’t get much worse than “Hazy,” which wanders along, never providing an indication of a final destination. For the most part, Young New England is embarrassingly lost in itself, a superfluous output that floats along at a frustratingly slow pace and lacks even a slight resemblance of direction.
Writing this review doesn’t come easy. I was primed for an album of the year candidate, because Transit made me expect an album of the year candidate. I was ready for a great band to show its muscles and continue to grow its sound while putting out solid content. But here’s an important point: Changing your sound and growing as a band (or, you know, “becoming more mature”) doesn’t earn any brownie points if the end result is…bad.
As music listeners, we hate to see bands stay static as much as we hate to see them reinvent themselves. We’re an impossibly annoying bunch of assholes and for the most part, we can’t be pleased. But as a fan of music, I’ll first and foremost wish for a band to successfully accomplish whatever it wants to accomplish. I can give points to something that’s well done, even if it might not be my cup of tea. And I am pleased if the end result is something I can enjoy on some level. I’m going to bring up Brand New’s Daisy right now, because that’s a pretty good record but it wasn’t appreciated by a fanbase that was spoiled by more or less two of the best records of all time. If Daisy was written by a new band, it would have been praised and fawned over. This isn’t the case, however, with Young New England. If this record was written by a new band, I would probably stop listening to that band.
I know that on this record, Transit did what it wanted to do. I know this because the record is extremely consistent in quality and because the band members were proud of the work they put out in the studio. This is nothing to fault, at all. But unfortunately enough, the aforementioned consistency of quality isn’t at a very high level and it leads listeners to wonder what happened to a band that many of us thought could do no wrong. They worked with the right producer – even though the production on this album sounds unforgivably bad, with the vocals out of whack and Daniel Frazier’s terrific drumming criminally underutilized – and they have all the talent in the world. The end result is relatively inexplicable and I’m not sure why a Transit fan would choose to play this album over any previous Transit release.
It’s not the end of the universe. Good bands write bad records. I’m not about to write Transit off, and I hope no one else will, either. I hope a lot of people disagree with this review and buy the album. I hope Transit makes a lot more music. Because while this may be a misstep in what will hopefully be a long career, everyone’s allowed a trip-up. One flaw in a career of pure, honest, quality work does not constitute the abandonment of a fanbase. The bad part is that Transit very much has to compete with itself here – with fastly approaching side releases by both guitarist Tim Landers and lead vocalist Joe Boynton, the obvious questions have to be asked. Did we get this band’s A-game on this release? Will Misser’s rising popularity spell the end of Transit? There’s something to be noticed when campaigning for a Misser EP begins right before a Transit record comes out. I hope not – but the Boston boys haven’t given themselves much to work with.