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Trans Am - TA

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Artist: Trans Am

Album: TA

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Apr. 20, 2002

The three wiseacres in Trans Am long ago established themselves as the most tech savvy young men in indie rock. They’ve cruised the sound spectrum in their souped up muscle car, hitting the speed bumps with gusto. Their 1999 masterpiece Futureworld, the most aggressive art rock record ever made with a Vocoder and a tangible Kraftwerk influence, should’ve made them rock stars. They’re funny as hell, live and on record, for those that can sniff out a prank (a necessary survival skill on this media-saturated day).

And on TA, their latest cylinder, I think they’re fucking with us. Short story: They’ve gone synth-pop. Totally 80’s. And the areas where they’re still recognizably Trans Am are, oddly, the most problematic with regards to this particular record.

The first half of TA doesn’t sound like shitty Trans Am. It sounds like a slapped-together Erasure tribute. The production sounds intentionally tinny and distant, like most 80’s jobs. The nasal vocals are there, the obnoxious synths are everywhere, the band’s usual gift for overblown rhythm sounds like an unwise studio flourish on what would’ve needed more understatement to really work as a satire. Again, it’s not exactly bad, just not for anyone expecting the same all-consuming, sunspot-infiltrated, fossil fuel-guzzling drama of the band’s back catalogue. The second half sounds like a bunch of reheated outtakes, tweaked to fit in with the Better Off Dead motif. There’s “Postitive People,” a probable college radio hit, and a few brain-twisting instrumentals, all of which could’ve been remixed to fit on 2000’s abstract Red Line. But, still, it’s an obvious gag, and how you respond to such skullduggery might be a good way to check your own comic pulse. Whether or not you opt to spend money on it is a whole different show.

To put it another way: 2000’s You Can Always Get What You Want, a compendium of rarities and B-sides, made a lot of geeks’ bootlegs and imports essentially worthless. And this time, Trans Am has truly fucked its diehard completists up the ass. Bravo.

By Emerson Dameron

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