Sound: While I have been hearing a lot in the media about Tom Gabel's transition to Laura Jane Grace, this is mostly irrelevant to the actual quality of the album and I won't really discuss it at length. In true punk rock fashion, the longest tracks from the album barely break 3 minutes making the entire 10 track album clock in at under 30 minutes. The album is being released under the band's label, Total Treble Music, and was recorded in the band's studio, Total Treble Studio. Jay Weinberg and Andrew Seward left Against Me! before the work on the new album began, which resulted in Laura Jane Grace performing the bass guitar on almost the entire album except for the tracks "Unconditional Love" and "FUCKMYLIFE666" which were recorded by Fat Mike from NOFX. The drums were performed by new drummer, Atom Willard. The open bass spot in the band has now been filled by Inge Johansson (of The Noise Conspiracy), but Inge came in after the recording of the album.
The album opens up with the title track, "Transgender Dysphoria Blues," which does an excellent job of setting the stage for the rest of the album. The musicality is just what you expect and want in pop punk, and the lyrics are straight forward and in line with the concept of the album. The drums have an almost punk march thing going on, and the distorted guitars push the song home. The next track, "True Trans Soul Rebel," has one of my favorite bass lines from the album and one of the most interesting hooks from the album as well. "Unconditional Love" is the first track on the album which includes Fat Mike on bass. This track definitely has a unique vibe to it, and the style of the vocals on this track along with the progression carry the song. "Drinking With the Jocks" is definitely a very aggressive track and one that I had heard a lot about before even listening to the album. While I wasn't behind this track lyrically 100%, I was definitely solid from a musical point of view. The next track, "Osama bin Laden as the Crucified Christ," I absolutely don't get where it is coming from lyrically, but it was awesome musically, and I loved the bass tone on this one. "FUCKMYLIFE666" is up next, and this is the second track to have Fat Mike on bass. The guitar melody that acts a little bit like a secondary hook in the song is fairly engaging and by this point in the album the story has pulled me in. The track "Dead Friend" is about the band's lighting engineer/roadie, Pope, who died - apparently Laura Jane Grace had some unresolved feelings about him, and this song highlights that. Next up is "Two Coffins" and this is the only acoustic track from the album – thematically, I think this may be a continuation of the previous track. "Paralytic States" is another track where the bass tone stood out a lot to me, and oddly enough had a Pixies vibe to it at certain places. The album closes out with the track "Black Me Out," which lyrically draws a line in the sand. I enjoyed the total mix of the album, with the bass and drums given the appropriate levels in the mix - this isn't something that is done right very often in punk music. The album is consistently strong from beginning to end. // 8
Lyrics: Laura Jane Grace doesn't sound dramatically different than she has previously on vocals on most of the album, maybe moving slightly in the direction of a contralto voice. Honestly, this album displays possibly her strongest performance as a vocalist on a studio album. The lyrical subject matter is basically locked into the subject matter of the album's concept throughout and so you can think what you want about the lyrics but vocally and musically the album is exceptional for the genre, in my opinion.
The lyrical content, again, is all based around the concept of being written from the perspective of or about a transgender prostitute. This is a pretty heavy subject, and I'm sure there will be people that it really turns off the band, as well as others who will be fascinated with the socially controversial nature of the lyrics. Laura has had a lot of time to build up a lot of feelings about her struggle with gender dysphoria and she's translated those into some strong songs. As a sample of the lyrics, here are some lyrics from the title track, "Transgender Dysphoria Blues," "Your tells are so obvious/ Shoulders too broad for a girl/ Keeps you reminded/ Helps you to remember where/ You come from/ You want them to notice/ The ragged ends of your summer dress/ You want them to see you/ Like they see any other girl/ They just see a faggot/ They hold their breath not to catch the sick/ Rough surf on the coast/ Wish I could have spent the/ Whole day alone with you." While the album's themes are theoretically a fictional concept, the curtain is definitely pulled back on some tracks, such as the track "Dead Friend" which names the band's lighting engineer/roadie that passed away: "We buried your body into the heart of a hole in the ground/ John Paul Allison, the orphan boy Pope/ She waits for you to haunt her/ she sleeps with your ghost at night in bed/ when you died you were only twenty-six/ the most real person that I've ever met/ your cold dead hands, you cold dead lips/ your cold dead heart, your cold dead kiss." // 8
Overall Impression: I was pleasantly surprised by the album, finding it to be the best pop-punk album I've heard in years, in my opinion. Also, while this album is musically "pop" punk, the lyrics and ideas are definitely full on punk, which I definitely respect. My favorite songs from the album would probably be the title track, then "Dead Friend," and then "True Trans Soul Rebel." I respect what Against Me! is doing with this album, and it is well executed. More power to Laura Jane Grace and the rest of the band. // 8
- Brandon East (c) 2014