Let me just start off by making it clear that I am a huge Trans Am fan, and while it would usually be more appropriate and logical, for a review to come from an objective point of view, I will instead spend the next couple of paragraphs highlighting why we must all buy Sex Change.
Trans Am have always made every other band look complacent. On Sex Change, the veteran electro-synth-pop crew from Washington DC flaunt their versatile, genre-hopping, danceable brand of instrumental electro-rock that defies you to sit still while listening. Determining how they do it is an endless list: their inexhaustible energy, their relentless synth beats, their strikingly distinctive if not purely original sound, or that strange lingering sense of loyalty to rock despite an openness to move as far away from it as possible.
Sex Change is the trio’s eighth studio album, and by now, they’re really cruising along with no hands. The band continue to parade their stylistic promiscuity (a concept I learnt from listening to an interview with Nelly Furtado), and after eight albums, you could say they’ve earnt the right to show off. Sex Change epitomises the carefreeness that has dominated their music in the past, (with maybe one exception being their last studio album, Liberation, which saw them tone down their frivolous antics in exchange for dramatic political overtones). Disregarding that one anomaly, Sex Change is almost like a greatest hits for the band, without actually being that. There’s a real conflicted sense of annoyance and pleasure listening to how not seriously they can take themselves, with the latter ultimately prevailing. Trans Am are a long way from trading in their deliciously upbeat synth pop tunes.
It opens with “First Words”, full of very Kraftwerk-esque computerised electronic beats. Once our memory blocks are refreshed, the fun sets in with the catchy, energetic, and totally synthed-up “North East Rising Sun”. This piece is appositely complemented by Sebastian Thomson’s crafty exotic, almost Eastern-flavoured percussion on “Obscene Strategies”. The synth vocals on “Climbing Up the Ladder” added a hauntingly Daft Punk-esque funk, which I say is a very necessary addition. “Exit Management Solution”, despite its limited minute-long duration (a real pity), conjured a vivid homage to the old-school video game generation with its sci-fi keyboard electronica. I could almost see a 1986 Rodney Mullen dressed in pink trackies and worn-out Chucks popping flatground triple kickflips on a fish deck.
Sex Change also exemplifies the stark contrast between the two ends of the Trans Am rock-electronic spectrum. On “4,738 Regrets”, the Am dip their toes into coventional post-rock territory, bringing back memories of 97’s Surrender to the Night. The band depart further from the synth-saturated opening to include some acoustic guitar on the subsequent track, “Reprieve”. The record isn’t without the trademark Trans Am rock anomalies: “Conspiracy of the Gods” has Philip Manley pulling some heavily punk-influenced riffs, with an underlying hint of synth to remind us who we’re listening to. The hints are dropped altogether on “Shining Path”, when the band mess with some of the heaviest, grungiest riffs I can remember them play.
Their final track, “Triangular Pyramid” sounds like an indie rock group’s tribute to the 80s glam metal era, leaving us feeling a million miles away from the Kraftwerk-esque opening. I guess looking back and seeing how far they’ve taken us since the LP’s starting point, the transformation encapsulates the band’s variety, something Sex Change exhibits to extremes. And while normally, you would think that these pieces are grossly detached and ultimately meandering and unfocused, the Am’s catalogue has established this as their forte. I personally yearned for it, if anything. There really is nothing else I can say about this album that will fully do justice for its brilliance. Trans Am are loaded with a hell of a discog, and Sex Change really says it all. At this point, they know what they’re doing, and fuckin’ ay, they’re doing it.