Transgender Dysphoria Blues
28:43 min • Total Treble Musics • January 21, 2014
Walter Beck reviews
The sixth album from Florida punk band Against Me! is the first since lead singer/guitarist Laura Jane Grace came out as trans*. The album focuses on issues of trans* identity, personal struggle, and ultimately liberty.
Opening with ‘Transgender Dysphoria Blues’, the album gets kicking with poppy drum riff from Atom Willard before the rest of the band joins in. The guitar riffs are pretty bright, obscuring the angry lyrics of Grace, as she invokes an almost scat-like singing, burning through,
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.
‘True Trans Soul Rebel’ is definitely a battle cry, featuring a good, strong, swaying rhythm from drummer Willard, with Grace on the bass. During the chorus, the powerful guitars really come through, creating a wall of sound as Grace shouts passionately,
Who’s gonna take you home tonight?
Who’s gonna take you home?
Does god bless your transsexual heart?
True trans soul rebel –
The third track ‘Unconditional Love’, featuring Fat Mike from NOFX on bass, is a dark tinged love ballad shrouded in a swinging, dancing rhythm. Drummer Willard showcases an almost hot jazz beat here, which blends in perfectly with the swinging guitar work of Grace and James Bowman. This track should be a single from this album; its musical elements could get the entire crowd on their feet and it’s a perfect counterpoint to Grace’s lyrics: “Even if your love was unconditional/It still wouldn’t be enough to save me”.
‘Drinking with the Jocks’ is the first real punk burner on the album. It’s an angry, aggressive anthem that sounds like the bastard offspring of Pansy Division and Limp Wrist. The band keeps their poppy undertones, but brilliantly slashes at hyper-masculinity, sexism, and homophobia,
I’m drinking with the jocks,
I’m laughing at the faggots,
Just like one of the boys,
Swinging my dick in my hand.
All of my life, all of my life,
Just like I was one of them –
The first half of the album ends with ‘Osama Bin Laden as the Crucified Christ’, a dark, heavy, experimental-tinged growler. Grace’s vocals take on a sinister sound as the band ploughs through with a twisted wall of sound. The lyrics seem laden with metaphor as they speak of Mussolini’s death and a life of pity fucks and table scraps. I’m not sure exactly what it means, but it works.
The second half of the album gets going with ‘FuckMyLife666’. Despite the awkwardness of the title, the song itself ain’t bad. It’s a pretty good mid-rhythm poppy number, once again featuring Fat Mike on bass, who keeps the groove going as the rest of the band soldiers on.
The eighth track ‘Two Coffins’ is the ballad of the album; a somber, acoustic number about life, love, and ultimately death. The bluesy swing of the guitars and the buried, thumping drums compliment Grace’s vocals perfectly. This track is a nice respite from the high energy rock ‘n’ roll that dominates the rest of the record.
But the mellowness doesn’t last as the band builds up to a full steam on track nine ‘Paralytic States’. A number about Grace’s struggles to come out as trans* and embrace her true identity, the sound is dominated by a wall of bright guitars, and a rhythm that would get the crowd jumping up and down in cadence. Grace passionately intones,
Paralytic states of dependency,
All waking life’s just a living dream,
Agitated states of amazement,
Never quite the woman that she wanted to be –
The album comes to an end with ‘Black Me Out’, a thumping rocker with the snotty, sarcastic anger of the band’s punk roots in full swing. Grace pulls out all the stops in this closing number, seemingly cheerfully singing out,
Black me out.
I want to piss on the walls of your house.
I want to chop those brass rings off,
Your fat fucking fingers,
As if you were a king-maker.
As if, as if, as if.
Black me out –
This album is quite an accomplishment. It’s full of a lot of good, swinging rhythm, punk anger, as well as a good sarcastic middle finger. Grace and the boys may have just made history, becoming the first mainstream rock ‘n’ roll band to cut an album full of unrestrained trans* pride. If this album does as well as their previous one did, they may even get a spot in the Top Forty Charts and a gold record to hang their hats on. This album is definitely worth checking out, if you like fierce pride and rock ‘n’ roll, you won’t be disappointed.