No Trace of Sophomore Slump On Present Company’s Self-Titled LP

Present Company first came on my radar early last year, and the Minnesota-based four-piece showed an eclectic mix of dance, indie, and post-punk influence on their first record that cemented them as a rising act. Now, on their self-titled follow-up, the band are even weirder and bolder than before.

These songs are for the nostalgic outcasts – those fans of Bowie, Byrne, and beyond who understand that beauty and oddity are not mutually-exclusive. The band play with reverb (and lack thereof), gang vocals, harmonies, synthesizers, and more to create a sound pays homage to earlier decades with ease, all while still maintaining a modern edge. Each track seems to dial into a different part of the band’s identity, from the Pixies-flavored “Normal” to the indie-pop stylings of “Forever”. “Hold Me” even acts as a surfy reprise of sorts to lead single “It’s Not Looking Good”. Add in goth, shoegaze, and prog to round things out.

It’s worth noting this album is 14 tracks long. This is ambitious but undeniably risky – it hearkens back to the days of “the album” and this collection of songs has a decent amount of continuity throughout. Lead vocals are a fundamental part of most albums, and the songs manage to swap lead vocalists without ever feeling disjointed. Organizationally, there aren’t many complaints – the record avoids being front-loaded and the general pacing is executed powerfully.

Over its runtime, the crew attempt to unpack failed-relationship dynamics amid present distress. It’s something that’s timely by design, with many people seeing just how well they can survive with their significant others, long distance partners, and spouses in seasons of work-from-home, economic instability, and constant social tension. How much do we love others, and how much do we only love the idea of loving them? Pressure tends to expose the weaknesses.

The tracks flow seamlessly into each other, helping cement the narrative approach. There are recurring lyrical and musical motifs spread in for good measure. This is an album for music appreciators, not those simply looking for a single or two (though admittedly, there are plenty of songs that DO stand well on their own). And while there’s definitely energy here, it feels sort of like a sleeping giant, never truly bursting into full fury. I can only imagine how frenetic some of these songs would get live in contrast (“Something’s Not Right” is particular sassy).

Even though the album is best taken as a whole, there are a few highlights. “It’s Not Looking Good” was the lead single and shows a nice mix of the band’s personality quirks alongside one of the strongest choruses. “What You Wanted” feels like a Depeche Mode ballad in some respects. “Prickly” and “Forever” are the literal indomitable center of the album, showing the classic and modern extremes of Present Company’s sound in quick succession. “Drive” is covered under a shoegaze haze of sorts. Suffice to say, there’s quick an array of textures on this record.

Present Company aren’t playing games, and this album proves it. In some ways, their self-titled effort reminds me of scarypoolparty’s work ethic – ambitious, longform electro rock with plenty of pop appeal. Not every listener will appreciate this album to its full extent (combing through 14 tracks is not a brief process), but the band have proven themselves once again as adept songwriters with big dreams.

Present Company releases 8/26. FFO: David Bowie, Talking Heads, The Pixies, The Cure, Depeche Mode, The 1975

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