Against Me!

Transgender Dysphoria Blues

Written by: PP on 15/01/2014 23:43:02

"Transgender Dysphoria Blues" might be the most self-reflective album title I've seen for quite some time. Dysphoria - the state of unease or generalized dissatisfaction with life - coupled together with blues - feelings of melancholy, sadness, or depression - must be exactly what Tom Gabel-turned-Laura Jane Grace must be feeling right now. Sense of confusion and self-doubt, as well as hatred and frustration with people around you not understanding you for who you really are. Unsurprisingly, that is what the entirety of the album discusses from various angles lyrically, observations of what it is like to be a transgender individual right from the source, featuring piercing honesty from Laura Jane Grace. She wastes no time in bringing up the topic already on first track "Transgender Dysphoria Blues": "You want them to notice / the ragged ends of your summer dress / You want them to see you / Like they see any other girl / They just see a faggot", nonetheless delivered with a bright melody and in a catchy chorus in the best Alkaline Trio-inspired happy sound/dark lyrics contrast.

But it's not just the gender that has changed with Against Me! since "White Crosses". True to tradition, "Transgender Dysphoria Blues" differs noticeably from all of its predecessors, just like the rest of their discography has done album to album. You have the almost lo-fi, screamed-out-loud anarcho-punk rage of their first album, then its less screamy cousin "As The Eternal Cowboy", the slower and more complex folk-influenced "Searching For A Former Clarity", the pop-transformation of "New Wave" and its subsequent coming-of-age on "White Crosses", and now we finally have an album that binds the latter two together with their earlier work. "Transgender Dysphoria Blues" is a far rawer and more punk oriented record overall, best noticed in the faster tempo and occasional moments where the vocals nearly break into screaming. That hasn't come at the cost of their mainstream songwriting sensibilities, though, as evident on "Dead Friend", "Unconditional Love", and "FUCKMYLIFE666", which are all basically slightly less polished versions of the sound we've grown used to hearing since "New Wave" from Against Me!. The production is still crystal clear and bigger sounding than their old sound, but the songwriting has taken a distinctly more aggressive direction, which works absolutely in their advantage.

Elsewhere, where the band try to experiment outside of the box, that is not necessarily the case. Acoustic ballad "Two Coffins", for instance, is not much different from any other standard-fare acoustic ballad you hear on punk albums aimed at the more mainstream side of the genre, and doesn't really add much value to the record especially because it breaks the flow from one upbeat song to the next. Then we have "Osama Bin Laden As The Crucified Christ", which showcases a much heavier and more distorted Against Me! in a rock'n'roll type of a song that could even be argued to be experimental given how different it is from the remainder of the album. One, it sticks out like a sore thumb sound wise, and two, it just doesn't work as a song particularly well.

Thankfully, these are just minor gripes on an album that's still dominated by the strongest material from Against Me! in years. A voice isn't something you can change with an operation or even hormones in Grace's age, so "Transgender Dysphoria Blues" still sounds like it's Tom Gabel behind the pipes. Moreover, the band's knack for writing songs you can sing along to with thousands of others hasn't been lost in the lineup shuffle. If anything, Against Me! sound liberated, both due to Gabel's transformation but also due to breaking off from their major label contract. The resulting record is a collection of infectious songs that should appease some old guard AM! critics, without completely alienating the band's newer mainstream fan base. In other words, a good mixture of punk ideals and solid alternative rock in one cocktail.

8

Download: Transgender Dysphoria Blues, Unconditional Love, Drinking With The Jocks, Dead Friend
For the fans of: Alkaline Trio, Fake Problems, The Lawrence Arms
Listen: Facebook

Release date 21.01.2014
Xtra Mile Recordings

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