Trans Am – Liberation

Trans Am

Over the course of 11 years and six albums – plus a host of EPs, side projects, and non-musical works – the trio of Nathan Means, Phil Manley, and Sebastian Thompson has been consistent in one thing: pushing the envelope. Always willing to change styles and try new things, the various works in Trans Am’s impressive catalog may be a mixed bag of influences and experimentation, but the constant is the band’s ability to master whatever the musicians want to do, from 80s synth-rock, to danceable rock, to driving instrumentals.
Liberation is the most outwardly political of the band’s albums, making an extremely clear – and some might say too obvious – remark about the state of politics. Speeches by George Bush are mixed on “Uninvited Guest” to make it sound like crowds are cheering for his statements of “We have witnessed the arrival of a new era: the beginning of the end of America.” Instead of politics, the mixture of weather reports on “White Rhino” still shows signs of living in DC. The sound of sirens in “Divine Invasion II” were recorded through the open window of the band’s DC studio and mark a poignant contrast to the soothing interlude, and “Total Information Awareness” continues a kind of synth-heavy, doom-ridden tone. The Iraqis get a voice on “Spike in Chatter,” and it transitions into “Divine Invasion” with the sound of helicopters for an ominous ending.
The opener, “Outmoder,” is classic Trans Am: bass-heavy, percussion-fueled, driving instrumental rock. Edgy yet flirting with electronic elements, it’s an affirmation of the Trans Am style I am most familiar with. “June” is another classic instrumental, with a thick guitar sound. There’s a nice mid-album series of more laid-back tracks, which show Trans Am mellowing a bit, and they flow nicely from the more rock of “Pretty Close to the Edge” to the more synth-sounding “Remote Control.”
Still, Liberation is an interesting collage of styles. “Idea Machine” is much more synth- and beat-driven, with vocals that follow the song’s danceable style. “Music For Dogs” sounds like one of the Blue Man Group’s songs, frankly, but it’s important to note that Trans Am came first.
The sound on Liberation, while mixing styles and samples, maintains a very thick, distortion-filled mix of driving rock and electronic rock. And, truth be told, it’s my favorite Trans Am album in several releases, mainly because the songs do rock. And while the overt political message here and there may date the album, it provides a strong framework for the album as a whole.