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Liberation by Trans Am

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Reviewed on 4th March 2004.



By Trans Am

I love bands from Washington D.C. Especially bands that were or are on Dischord, the innovative, politically conscious and close knit label co-founded by Ian Mackaye (Teen idles, Minor Threat, Fugazi).

Trans Am are from Washington D.C, but they aren't on Dischord. They are definitely innovative however and they are definitely political. 'Liberation' is the culmination of 10 years experience in recording, performing and writing, coupled with the political influence of an ever-increasingly tense social environment in the US. Where better to be than D.C, to be able to soak it all up and transfer it into compositional art?

The second track, 'Uninvited Guest' contains a sample of a George W. Bush speech concerning the Iraq war, his voice eerily manipulated into sounding something like Darth Vader and a PC game alien overlord simultaneously. The title obviously alludes to Bush's dubious victory in the presidential election that saw him take office. The loop backing the speech is just as strange and discomforting. Trans Am certainly know how to explore their political attitudes sonically, as part of a mature reflection on world events, rather than in protest. Indeed, a later track accompanies an Arab journalist talking about the coverage of the Iraq war. In some ways however, I think the inclusion of such issues does not enhance the music, nor does it gain my appreciation.

The album consists of mainly instrumental tracks, either fully electronic, 80's styled synth pop, or as a fusion of traditional punk-funk stylings. 'Idea Machine', is short and tuneful, like most of the tracks, but is the only one with full-blown guitar, bass and drums. Kind of like Gang of Four meets early Fugazi, with occasional percussion and insane electro samples. This and 'June' are probably the best indicator of the new/old blend Trans Am have got going. A superb, slowed up drum and bass rhythm carries a sinuous, delay-rich guitar melody over fuzzy and dislocated bass.

My favourite track is undoubtedly the bizarrely named 'Music for Dogs'. The vocals are melodically and lyrically sublime, 'It's not funny anymore / when you come back for more / you used to hate me bad / but I've gotten over that', whilst remaining perfectly suited to the song, which pounds away in a highly introverted and glazed fashion. Think Interpol on speed, using Massive Attack's synthesizers and a bit of eccentricity to boot.

When I first listened to 'Liberation' it didn't impress me as such. The songs are short, with sparse vocals and maybe too many ideas crammed in; a result of the overall experimental nature of the music. However, I have warmed to it with every listen. Not melancholy, not malign and not morose, it still remains a brooding, seething affair, characterised by dub/dance sensibilities. Saturated with variation, but maybe a little too dependent on the use of instrument effects and dare I say it 'synth-happy', 'Liberation' is certainly an example of intelligent and original work. It is purposefully laced with a meaningful expression of the paranoia and fear that seems to have become widespread throughout American cities in recent years. Make of that what you will.

Still, I would rather listen to Q and Not U and Faraquet when it comes to interesting, entertaining and boundary-pushing punk music. They write songs. They are innovative, from Washington D.C and on Dischord. But who am I to let allegiances affect my opinion? Trans Am are all about concepts, soundscapes and pensive, resonant adventures in sound; this they are good at.



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