Trans Am - Volume X LP
Thrill Jockey Records
Over the years, Trans Am have been torch-bearers for many of the sounds that became fashionable again in 2010's indie rock and electronic music, including Krautrock, prog rock, electro, and stoner rock. On their aptly named tenth full-length, Volume X, they prove once again that they have more than enough sides to fill twice as many albums with engaging variations of their sound; The Red Line and Sex Change had as much musical breadth as several discographies' worth of music by less eclectic bands. While Volume X isn't as ambitious as either of those efforts, it shows why Trans Am's members work on projects as diverse as Baroness' omnivorous metal and the minimal Krautrock of Life Coach when they're not playing together. The band delineate these extremes with the album's first two songs: the lumbering "Anthropocene" is a worthy addition to their growing body of riff-rock, while "Reevaluations" is tight and funky, with gated drums that would do Jan Hammer proud, and the vocoders that have become a Trans Am hallmark. This mischievous streak has made them hard to pin down, and arguably hard to fully appreciate, for listeners who would prefer them to concentrate on their music's more challenging and cerebral sides. However, the trio winds its playful and serious elements together so tightly on Volume X that it's hard to have one without the other. The album's vocoder shenanigans run the gamut from the equally menacing and hilarious threats of "K Street" to "I'll Never," a rare display of Trans Am's pretty pop that cloaks its heartache in mechanical vocals. For every ridiculous outburst like the metal tantrum that is "Backlash," there's a sublime track like "Night Shift," a glorious synth fantasia that reaffirms Trans Am are among the few acts able to push Krautrock forward. This wide range helps keep the band's music vivid: the way penetrating drones overtake "Megastorm"'s chilly grind evokes walking down a dark corridor into blinding light, while the blend of pastoral acoustic guitars and ominous synth arpeggios on "Insufficiently Breathless" conjure black helicopters flying over a field of wildflowers. Volume X isn't quite as consistent as Trans Am's finest work, but it's still a lot of fun and will have fans anticipating what's to come between this album and Volume XX.