Pump Up the Volume
When you think of post-rock, you picture dew-filled forests, lush landscapes and Icelandic lakes. Sure, Trans Am has been called a post-rock group, but mostly in the “old school” sense like Talk Talk and Tortoise has been. For the past 24 years, the group has had a somewhat steady stream of releases, while heavily gigging with Tool. You know, that band your older sister really likes, but you don’t. Or at least, you pretend you don’t. Trans Am’s latest release, Volume X, is an colorful mess of electro pop, acid house, industrial dance, and robot voices. Yeah, let’s call it that.
The first track, “Anthropocene,” opens with ethereal synths, goth-y guitars, tribal-esque percussion and somewhat half-hearted vocals. It’s a track that begs to be inspiring, but falls short just as it gets good.
Tracks like “Night Shift” and “Failure” have a sort of kraut rock thing going for them. The repetitive drumming and rhythmic synth underscore the light synth work that basically qualifies these tracks as post-rock. Still, not as uplifting or visceral as one would like, but these songs are definitely where the group shines.
The rave-friendly “K Street” just doesn’t sit well with the rest of the album, as dance-y and robotic as some of the other tracks are. In 2014, the “weird future” just doesn’t seem as weird anymore, so songs that have a sort of Kraftwerk sense of humor fall flat.
Trans Am also inserts moments into Volume X that resemble their hardcore punk days with Bad Brains-esque guitar work, fast palm muting and heavy distortion, but these tracks don’t do much to improve the record. This seems kind of counter-intuitive when you have tracks like “I’ll Never” being a beautiful new wave ballad. The contrast is too jarring. It’s all too reminiscent of when Manchester post-punk slowly began transitioning to Hacienda-era acid house. It was an odd time in music, but people were able to dance to it.
Maybe that’s the appeal in Trans Am’s records. As long as it’s loud, not unusually offensive and danceable, people will be drawn to it live, which is how Trans Am has stood the test of time.