Sound — 7
Already establishing themselves as a staple in the punk world in the previous decade, Against Me! had been in the throes of finding a suitable balance between their raw punk roots and a desire to craft a more mainstream punk sound in 2007's "New Wave" and 2010's "White Crosses" (both produced by the reputable Butch Vig) before a brand new phase for the band would be ushered in. After frontwoman Laura Jane Grace (formerly known as Tom Gabel before renaming herself) publicly came out as a transgender woman in 2012, the band's sixth album, 2014's "Transgender Dysphoria Blues," was, for all intents and purposes, a symbol for regaining control. Along with Grace acting as the sole producer of the album, releasing it on the band's own label Total Treble Music, and harking back to the stripped-down punk sound of their early work, the lyrical concept of the album was inspired by the feelings Grace had experienced and wrestled with regarding her sexual identity throughout her life, making it easily the most inspired Against Me! album thus far.
In their seventh album, "Shape Shift With Me," Against Me! continue tending to a back-to-basics punk style akin to their earlier albums. With songs like "333," "Rebecca," and "All This (And More)" being as straightforward as can be, little additions stick out more, whether it be the sampled speech in "ProVision L-3," the spaced-out "Dead Rats" that kicks into a high gear at the very end, or the classic punk guitar solo in "Haunting, Haunted, Haunts" (it should also be noted that Inge Johansson's basslines throughout the album make him the clear MVP).
The most notable change in things, however, is a shift towards more of a post-punk revival sound. With the more melodic guitar lines in "Boyfriend" and "Crash" sounding similar to The Strokes circa "Is This It," Grace's new vocal timbre spearheads this inclination in a post-punk direction, where her singing in songs like "12:03" and "Delicate, Petite & Other Things I'll Never Be" is comparable to early-era The Cure or Bauhaus. But though this is the new normal for Grace, she still throws back to the rough vocal style of her past, erupting from a new wave singspeak to a punky snarl in "Norse Truth," and contrasting that roughness with a harmonious vocal force in the verses of "Suicide Bomber."
Lyrics — 8
Focusing on interpersonal relationships, Grace's lyrics in "Shape Shift With Me" capture both the transient surge of love and the everlasting sting of heartache afterwards. Grace isn't shy to reach for the former, seen in the self-admitted lust for a temporary affair in "Dead Rats" and "Rebecca" ("Rebecca, kiss me, let's not fall in love"), but in her moments of pining for another in "333" and "Suicide Bomber," it's clear that any connection made will later result in a ripping separation for Grace. In some of those cases, that aftermath has her solemnly swearing off the lingering emotions, heard in "12:03" ("Whatever direction takes me away from you / That's the direction I wanna head in") and "Boyfriend" ("It's not love, it's adornment, bathroom wall graffiti / A cliché sprayed on a t-shirt, fortune cookie poetry"), but in the more vulnerable songs, Grace agonizes over a relationship dead and faded in "Haunting, Haunted, Haunts" ("I know the feeling well, longing for something that's lost / I feel you like a phantom limb"). And while not certain, Grace's heartache expressed in the album may be inspired by her divorce from her second wife a few years ago during Grace's coming out as transgender - the line "C'mon, shape shift with me / What have you got to lose?" in "Norse Truth" being perhaps the most concrete reference to such.
Overall Impression — 7
Coming off the heels of a bona fide landmark record, "Shape Shift With Me" is put in the daunting position of following up from such a significant predecessor. But whereas the back-to-basics mentality of "Transgender Dysphoria Blues" was invoked at the perfect time, "Shape Shift With Me" strives to move forward in its sound rather than staying in place. That step forward may not be an extraordinary one that reaches above and beyond their previous album, but as a record moving forward, "Shape Shift With Me" does an alright job.