Artist: Against Me!
Album: Transgender Dysphoria Blues
Release Date: 21st January 2014
Label: Total Treble Music
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: 2014 is going to be a very exciting year for music. One of those exciting moments in music was the release of Against Me!’s 6th full-length studio album Transgender Dysphoria Blues.
One of the reasons that it has been a topic of interest in the music world as well as long-term fans of Against Me! is because it is the band’s first record since the front-man Tom Gabel announced that he would soon become Laura Jane Grace. This was news that understandably rocked the world around the band, causing the loss of drummer Jay Weinberg in December, as well as bassist Andrew Seward. It was debatable for some time as to whether the band would have been likely to dissolve, but Grace announced that this was an album that needed to come out, and with assistance from Atom Willard on drums and Fat Mike (NOFX) on bass (for two tracks Unconditional Love and F–KMYLIFE666), Transgender Dysphoria Blues was released a week ago.
Usually, I would not concern myself with diatribes into musician’s personal lives, unfortunately this is one factor contributing towards the album that must be taken into consideration when reviewing it. Many posed the question as to whether Gabel’s transition to Grace would be detrimental to the band’s sound, notably to the vocalist’s voice, many more fans speculated that although Laura Jane Grace had stated that there would be no change to the vocals, there would be some difference. I listened as a long-time fan of Against Me! to investigate what the band had to offer.
If you heard albums like Searching for a Former Clarity or As the Eternal Cowboy then there is much to be appreciated in the new record. The songs do have a style and raw energy reminiscent of the band’s earlier work and it’s clear that the angst and frustration had returned and surfaced in the music. Unfortunately, there is an amateurish nature to the sound, almost as if it had been recorded in their dad’s garage whilst trying to figure out where to position the microphone for recording. This may sound like a harsh observation, but it definitely is a re-visitation to Against Me!’s ‘former clarity’.
A year ago, Nervous Energies posted a video of Tom in the midst of his transition playing an acoustic rendition of a new song called Black Me Out. This is a song with lyrics that are so uncomfortable to hear they verge on being humorous; “I wanna p–s on the walls of your house”, and “I wanna chop those brass rings off your fat f–king fingers”. Yet, despite their humour, as you listen to the song you can’t help but feel that there is no humour to be found in the song, and they are being sung with real aggression and anger which adds to the discomfort of hearing it. That being said, it is a quality in the song.
Many of the other tracks on the record hold a similar effect, there appears an array of shocking titles such as “F–kMyLife666“, and “Osama Bin Laden as the Crucified Christ“. The first time I saw these titles, I couldn’t help but feel as though the band were perhaps intentionally going for the shock factor and overshooting the mark, that, or they had hired a black metal band full of 14 year olds to write their songs. However, names aside, they were some of the most intense tracks I’ve heard from the band.
Unfortunately, the songs sound quite juvenile, almost as if the band have quite literally started again and lack the production that you may find on New Wave or White Crosses. Although many fans will praise the artists for returning to their more traditional punk sound. There are definitely songs which would benefit from tight production, such as True Trans Soul Rebel, which make sense to be rough, however, I can’t help but feel that some of the guitars and vocals are lost in the dirty production courtesy of Laura Jane Grace herself.
One of the songs that benefits from Grace’s production style is Two Coffins, an acoustic song similar to Harsh Realms from Tom Gabel’s solo album; Heart Burns. It’s a heart-felt song, typical of Against Me! to throw into their albums in the most unexpected places. Lines such as: “How lucky I ever was to see the way that you smile at me.” show that Laura Jane Grace isn’t only a ball of angst, but also an emotional complexity.
One of my personal favourite tracks from the album; Dead Friends, is another of those fast-paced punk songs, which are slow enough to be appreciated as a ‘stop and listen’ song, detailing accounts into the life of one of Laura’s friends, and remorse at their passing. It is songs such as this and Paralytic States (of Dependency) which truly showcase why Against Me! have been down, but are definitely not out.
I would recommend the album, not as one of their best releases, but as one of the most important in their careers to date. It shows the ability to make high-class songs and not lose face or style in the face of great personal struggle, and this reflects in the rebellious sound of the album, which energy makes it fully worth the listen.
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