Every once in a while, a band comes along that champions pop music to such perfection that the results are nothing less than sheer ecstasy. The New Pornographers did it last year with Twin Cinema. Mount Pleasant, Michigan’s Those Transatlantics have accomplished that same staggering feat this year with their full-length debut of gleaming pop gems, Knocked Out. Full of down-home charm and an obscene number of infectious hooks, these New-er Pornographers keep the dream of pop delight within their sights and never let it go. With playful guitars, bustling piano and themes touching on lost innocence, childhood memories and first loves, Knocked Out reinforces the notion that you just can’t keep a good pop tune down.
Kathleen Bracken’s voice rings out like a less countrified version of
Neko Case, at once delicate and confident. Employing backing vocals from keyboardist and guitarist Chris Hatfield, Bracken creates cohesive harmonies that should have A.C. Newman taking notes. The band is rounded out with additional guitar work from Michael Spence, Joseph Clark on bass, and the intuitive drumming of Trevor Waldron, whose subtle tambourine is pure icing.
“Boys and Children Sing for Summer” starts things off with no less than three movements in its six minute duration. Bracken’s voice cuts clearly through high-picked guitar notes before Waldron lays down the beat. The final two minutes morph into an instrumental rock-out in this poignant ode to childhood. On the old-time piano trot of “The Other Cheek,” Bracken bemoans a relationship destined for failure: “You always talk dirty when I only want to talk.” Swirling synth and a quiet-loud dynamic give “Wendy” just a pinch of Veruca Salt and ’90s alternative flair. “I, Avalanche” takes its time in building to its soaring crescendo. Low piano notes accompany a marching drum beat before everything erupts into glorious guitar fuzz.
For “To The Editor,” imagine the similarly titled “Fake Headlines” by that band from Vancouver everybody’s so hot and bothered about, then add layered female vocals and trumpets. “In Your Neighborhood” wanders the same streets as Twin Cinema‘s “These Are The Fables,” to similar effect, but with a carnivalesque piano and vocal duets throughout. The first minute of “The Cemetery” could be an outtake of “Use It” with its building guitar intro and simple drums. But after that first minute the song sheds any likeness with its sing along chorus full of endless harmonies and Waldron’s wondrous tambourine.
In defiance of the pop formula, songs on Knocked Out range from just over a minute with “Where Have You Gone?” to more than six on “Boys and Children Sing for Summer.” Yet nothing seems too short or lingers for too long as the album maintains all the sensibilities you’d expect from deliberately crafted pop. It’s comforting to know that you don’t have to cross any oceans to enjoy Those Transatlantics’ Knocked Out, but you may find yourself floating above the clouds and over the seas to the realms of pop bliss anyway.
The New Pornographers – Twin Cinema
The Brunettes – Mars Loves Venus
Tullycraft – Disenchanted Hearts Unite