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Trans Am - Sex Change

  by Chris O'Toole

published: 26 / 1 / 2007

Trans Am - Sex Change
Label: Thrill Jockey
Format: CD


Umpredictable and invigorating seventh album from durable post rock/electronica act, Trans Am

Although they are the black sheep of the Thrill Jockey clique, Trans Am are still in reputable musical company. For over a decade they have formed an integral part of a movement that has grown increasingly influential. But whilst Tortoise, Ui and others are concerned with experimentation and development, pushing loops and drones over unforgiving territory and applying ultra clinical beats to razor sharp structures, Trans Am remain a distant audio relative; out there on a flimsy branch of the family tree. They are as happy to acknowledge their musical heritage as they are to plunder it for their own ends. In this sense Trans Am is a family joke. Not in any conventional long-sprawling-anecdote-followed-by- punch-line and (hopefully) laughter kind of way. No, Trans Am is more subtle than that. Through their recordings Trans Am challenge the notions each of our hold about music, what is sacred and what is sacrilege, and attempt to exploit those prejudices. Not in any mean or malicious way, but as a weapon of humour. They exaggerate, distort, reinterpret and finally present their musical wisdom in the search for exhilaration and enlightenment. 'Sex Change', the band's seventh full length album, is an expression of this philosophy. Here Trans Am has mined the back catalogues of some of the finest Krautrock protagonists, notably Neu! and Can, and discovered the minimal, propulsive, cyclical beats these icons employed in their work. These sounds have been filtered through the modern day instrumental paradigm of Kinski and the aforementioned Thrill Jockey label mates and combined with large doses of humour and showmanship to create an unpredictable and invigorating record. On the opening couplet of tracks Trans Am, however, appear to step away from this idea of themselves and take their work a little more seriously. First 'Words' and 'North East Rising Sun' both utilise seesaw drones and building circular beats combined with driving bass rhythms to create organic creatures that develop to full flower as the tracks progresses. Both employ vocoder lyrics to add implication to the instrumental backdrop and in this regard 'First Words' is a little darker. The said 'First Words' are as if they were the first after waking from a coma; distorted and manipulated into an awful spectacle, as the full realisation of what has just happened dawns. In contrast 'North East Sun Rising' has the same sparse, wispy qualities as the Silver Apples employed, draping weightless rhymes over the instrumentation; more important for their melodic quality than any inherent literary value. On the following 'Obscene Strategies' the band borrow the DFA tool kit to create song similar in style to the work of LCD Soundsystem, but with slightly less ultra ironic New York hipness. Interestingly the title of the track is a reference to the 'Oblique Strategies', as developed by Brian Eno for dissolving creative blocks; a version of which the band developed for the recoding of this album. Trans Am’s, however, were a little more inventive. For example 'Obscene Strategy #18' states Trans Am must rip off black musicians, whereas '#31' states the band must hose down the control room. It is not until 'Conspiracy of the Gods', however, that the band finally hit full stride, unleashing a free running pastiche of hair metal; all inflated guitar trickery and free running drums. The blinking lights and beeps of the album opening are replaced with the silver explosions of Kinski and modern post-rock, but presented in micro-format, unfolding over minutes rather than days. This is a catharsis the band clearly enjoys. The remainder of the album vacillates between these two extremes. 'Climbing the Ladder (Parts III and IV)' borrows from Daft Punk to create a slow motion dance floor number, with stern drum lines keeping the lightning flashes in check. '4,738 Regrets' deploys a delightful guitar melody as the centre piece of what is almost a straight rock track, before 'Reprieve' appears to pay homage to Wham! The close of the album continues in this way as Sex Change moves between orchestral instrumentation and detached, oblique beats. Overall 'Sex Change' is an album of contrasts as Trans Am use old material to create new explosions and electronic instruments to create organic growth. Whilst some tracks saunter along, content enough in their place in the universe, others aim for the stars. And whilst all their clothes are borrowed, but they wear them so well.

Track Listing:-
1 First Words
2 North East Rising Sun
3 Obscene Strategies
4 Conspiracy of the Gods
5 Exit Management Solution
6 Climbing Up the Ladder (Parts III and IV)
7 4,738 Regrets
8 Reprieve
9 Tesco v. Sainsbury's
10 Shining Path
11 Triangular Pyramid

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