Talking on Couches opens with “Probably,” a song that blends the droney nature of Lydia Burrell’s “Tuxedo” with hints of August Hotel’s semi-androgynous brand of synth pop. We might as well through in fellow Minneapolis synth rock group Graveyard Club on the list as well.
While this isn’t necessarily the precedent for the album, it does give a sense of Present Company’s vibe—moody, prog-adjacent modern pop. I considered if it should be classified as rock instead, given there is a fair amount of guitar and drums. Ultimately, it’s the vocal hooks and general sentiments here that give this album a pop sensibility. You’d see Present Company on tour with fun. before you’d see them play with a band like Silversun Pickups.
Despite a bright veneer, there’s a certain subtle darkness on many of the tracks. I can’t quite articulate what it is, as it’s indeed fairly ornamental (the aftertouch of synth lines or trails of guitar feedback, perhaps?). This lends itself to a feeling of lethargy. Pair that with aching vocal lines, and the result is pretty peculiar. It’s far from the bleak sines of darkwave, and it’s not as longingly-nostalgic as typical synthwave. It feels modern, appropriately frustrated.
Tracks like “Animal” are undeniably icy, verging on the genre-bending sounds of Polyenso. This is a band that understands dynamics and emotions, even if they’re not the emotions you might typical expect from this genre. Urban soulfulness meets the rhythmic pulse of alt-rock and post-punk. “Basement” feels like it’d fit well in a film of sorts with its fanfare.
The drums are certainly a highlight of this album. Rather than opt for programming, a real kit is here in full force, keeping things feeling organic. Even though there’s a fair amount of vocal effects and synthesizers, these songs do largely feel grounded in reality. There’s an inviting level of familiarity at work.
Talking on Couches set a high bar for this new band. Bowie-esque ballads, Killers-esque ragers, and a fair share of incomparable tracks blend together for an established and mature album. Present Company break convention on an overplayed genre, injecting some of the honesty (and dissonance) of rock, and the result is something along the lines of how Mew might have turned out were they inspired by Rush—this is prog pop that isn’t afraid to get to work.