*This review was composed by Jesse Richman and edited by Erik van Rheenen
Credit Transit for not burying the lede. Young New England, the band’s knotty fourth full-length, wrestles with those titular twin poles of identity — age and place — in each of its thirteen songs.
Not that evolution and growth are anything new for Transit; starting with 2011’s largely acoustic Something Left Behind EP, and continuing on that year’s full-length, Listen & Forgive, the Bostonian quintet have undergone one of the scene’s more dramatic transformations in recent years, morphing from an nothing-special pop-punk group into a confident, Midwestern emo embracing rock/indie outfit. Young New England finds the men of Transit in another transitional phase, but this time it’s not so much a musical vertex as it is an inflection point in their larger lives: they’ve reached the proverbial quarter-life crisis.
The Transit of Young New England is a group old enough to understand that they won’t be young forever, young enough to still believe that growing slightly older is somehow noteworthy, and positively obsessed with gripping to, and slipping from, time’s pull. It’s a fixation that begins with the title of the album’s lead track, “Nothing Lasts Forever,” and carries straight through to album closer “Lake Q,” where vocalist Joe Boynton laments that, “we keep sleeping through the heat of the moment / and sunsets we forget to notice.” In Boynton’s world, the tick of the clock is a unit of currency; he seems terrified of time’s passage itself, working on the assumption that each moment left is a moment lost, a grain of hourglass-sand through his fingers and into a hole in the earth, irretrievable. Conversely, he takes on a self-congratulatory tone when he finds he’s used a moment well; in “Summer, ME” he sings jubilantly that “these are the nights that fill my heart / and these are the times we’ll keep and carry / older, oh oh, we’re getting older.”
If Boynton is desperately hanging on to the present with one hand, the other tethers the past in a vice grip; for all he sings of letting go, he holds those lost moments close. “Is it so hard to forget the nights we used to spend tangled up?” he asks on “Sleep,” before asserting that he “won’t sing those songs again.” But of course, he’s just done so. Similarly, in “So Long, So Long” Boynton announces “so long, so long to the silver days / so long, so long to feeling second rate,” but by the end of the track he’s been reduced to begging “take me, let’s run away,” the desperate cry of a man who can’t let go of even the worst of moments. It often seems as if, for Boynton, even rotten time is better than no time at all.
Not that these preoccupations are restricted to the subliminal. Boynton addresses the subject directly on the Peter Pan-referencing “Second To Right” — “we only want what we can’t have // we’re always hung up in the past […] that silver star second to right / won’t shine again a second time.” Like metaphorical Wendys, Young New England finds Transit caught in that liminal phase between adolescence and adulthood, forced to choose between the awful reality of growing up and the awful reality of not growing up, with time angling to take even that one terrible choice away.
It’s not only time that Transit is struggling to come to terms with on Young New England: it’s also their place in the world. While punks have rallied around their local scenes since time immemorial, there’s always been something special about Bostonians. There’s fierceness and vociferousness to Masshole loyalties that eclipses all sense and sensibility. It’s a form of pride sloshed over with insecurity — these are, after all, the folks who will break out “Yankees Suck!” chants at wrestling matches, concert set breaks and political rallies. And for the kids who grow up steeped in that ruddy, sudsy mix of beer and grit, it’s only natural that those influences become part and parcel of their music.