Thrill Jockey Records (distributed locally via Rocket Distribution)
Since 1990 American three piece Trans Am have been pursuing their own idiosyncratic take on epic instrumental jams, ironically cheesy rock histrionics and vocoder infused, soundtrack inspired uber-sounds. Having ridden the fickle waves of the mid 90s post rock anti-boom, the trio has since maintained a somewhat sporadic presence on the musical landscape, emerging every few years from the band members’ other various side projects and playing the game totally on their own terms, delivering their music irrespective of any current musical fad. The band truly excel in the live setting, and witnessing drummer Sebastian Thomson in full flight is one of the most thrillingly visceral spectacles in rock, an intuitive powerhouse of tension and release who can caress and pummel his kit in equally impressive fashion.
Volume X, Trans Am’s 10th album was recorded in San Francisco and is a self-produced effort. It sees the band deliver a well-rounded snapshot of all elements of their sound across the years, where unlikely matched genres such as prog metal, kraut rock, minimal electro and 80’s b grade movie inspired soundtracks somehow manage to co-exist in relative harmony and without sounding like a garbled mess, for the most part. Yes Kraftwerk, Metallica and Giorgio Moroder can good musical bedfellows make, in the right hands…
Opening track Anthropocene starts with a 30 second keyboard drone, which gives way to a relatively generic (by Trans Am standards) cyber rocker, augmented with a muted vocal performance from bassist and singer Nathan Means. This is a sound they have put to better use previously on albums such as the eclectically stunning Red Line.
The following number Reevaluations sees the band morph thrillingly into one of their familiar pulsing, electro-synth with vocoder workouts. All eerily retro-future and creepily malevolent, it’s the soundtrack to a cyber punk dystopia.
Night Shift sees the band this time tap into their Krautrock mantra, the swirling, dreamy keyboards and motorik pulse riding the track all the way home.
Things get hair-flailingly thrashy on the frantically rocking Backlash, whizzing by on a speed metal via Motorhead highway to oblivion. I’ll Never is a wistful cyber-ballad, a pulsing drum machine heartbeat and icy keys of robotic heartbreak intoning the listener to ‘come a little bit closer, for the very last time…’
And penultimate track Insufficiently Breathless commences with a gentle seaside sway of acoustic strums and proggy keyboards, a rare moment of relative lightness amongst the bug eyed paranoia and over the top rock that infuses the majority of the band’s blueprint.
Whilst Volume X may not be Trans Am’s definitive musical statement (seek out Red Line and Future World to hear the band in career defining glory), it still delivers enough thrills and clout to make it worthy of investigation for both previous disciples and new coverts alike.
To hear the album for yourself, tune into Rabbit Radio (the Gold Coast’s very own digital streaming online radio station) on Tuesday nights from 9pm, when the record will be played in full right after The Avalon Hour – the radio mouthpiece for Antimatter’s Underground Sounds.