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Trans Am - Liberation

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Artist: Trans Am

Album: Liberation

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Feb. 29, 2004

I wouldn’t call this Trans Am Lite, though that could be in the cards for the next few albums. But Liberation is the smoothest blend of muscle-car bombast and Kraftwerkian Euro-riddims the band has concocted to date. They worked the bugs out of the formula, it seems. And while I’ll miss how amusingly unpredictable TA could be, I can’t complain about their first long-player that works, front to back.

Of course, I’ve always dug Trans Am. Whether or not it’s a function of proximity to Dad’s shameless prog-rock collection during my tender years, or listening to Wax Trax! fests on WNCW’s “ARC Overnight” with my teenaged noodle softened by hormones, drugs and sleep deprivation, I suppose I’ll never know. The Am’s aural leetspeak simultaneously satirizes and functions as a certain cerebral swagger I’ve always enjoyed. On numerous levels. I wouldn’t recommend them to a lot of my friends.

But the band has a healthy school of fans, and until now it’s never resisted fucking with them. For every galvanizing Futureworld or hyperambitious Red Line, we got the frustrating minimalism of The Surveillance or the disposable ‘80s theme party TA.

So it feels good to hear the straight-ahead jock jam drums and wocka-wocking guitar on “Outmoder” – it feels honest. And it’s particularly grand to hear Trans Am navigate –without smirking - the same icy emotional depths as their synth-pop patrons, as they do on “Divine Invasion” and “Music for Dogs.” Hey, I didn’t know they took this shit seriously! The melancholy “Is Trans Am Really Your Friend?” would be exquisite even in a batch of Gary Numan tunes.

They even went so far as to hock the Vocoder, apparently. Only “Music for Dogs” and “Idea Machine” are muddied with the band’s always-execrable vocals, and those are, if breathy nonsense, at least not cute at all.

In their retreat from the post-modern, Trans Am manages more genuine complexity than before. “June,” with it’s chunky beat, snarling core, sobbing lead and eerie, reverbed fade, should be three or four times its length.

If Trans Am continues to mellow, this might be the last of several great albums. But for the impatient, it’s the first really good one.

Wacky vocal cut-ups are as follows: “Uninvited Guest” (blunt satire-by-recontextualization on G. W. Bush that’s going to sound about as fresh as Fresh Bush and the Invisible Man’s “Hard Times” within a few years, I hope) and “White Rhino” (weather forecast at variable speed).

By Emerson Dameron

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