Trans Am - Volume X

by Ethan Ranis Rating:7.5 Release Date:2014-08-11

It's getting harder and harder to tell when Trans Am is joking. Previously, the song titles and goofy promo photos were pretty clear indicators for when they were having a larf (see for example Red Line's 'Where Do You Want to Fuck Today?'). But on Volume X (their 10th album, of course) everything could be a joke, or maybe none of it is. 

Sure, when one of the tracks ends with a few seconds of off-the-cuff laughter, it means that it could be a pisstake, but what to make of the psych-flurry instrumentals? Or the stereotypical sensitive-80s-rock ballad? When so much of the album is devoted to pinpoint genre pastiche, it's tough to tell what's meant to be sincere.

Volume X's modus operandi is clearly delineated by its first two tracks, which are diametric opposites. 'Anthropocene' is math-rocking metal with droning vocals, sounding a bit like Tool on a huge dose of lithium, but 'Reevaluations' is vocodered, clipped robo-funk. The only thing the two share in common is a sense of icy detachment.

The remainder of the album similarly ping-pongs in mood without much rhyme or reason, snapping between insane high-velocity punk-metal with demonic backmasked vocals ('Backlash') and pointilist ambient jams punctured with gated snares ('Ice Fortress'). The 80s-influenced production is perhaps the only element of continuity binding the album together, like a child of the era with ADD pasting together a bizarro mixtape.

The production choices are generally unique and interesting, and the playing is unmistakeably technically competent, exhibiting a Battles-esque precision on several tracks. The album's flaws come from both lack of cohesion and songwriting. There are only a handful of songs which really feel like they're going anywhere here, among them the aforementioned 'sensitive guy' tracks, 'I'll Never' and 'Insufficiently Breathless'. 'I'll Never' is a spaced-out, echoey, heavily-vocodered track which sounds like it's intended for a slow-dance at prom, while 'Insufficiently Breathless' coasts on an exceedingly pretty acoustic guitar figure and brings the album to a pleasant close.

Volume X has its definite highlights, but in the midst of so much random, directionless riffage, it's sometimes hard to see the point and easy to wonder why so much feels like filler. Maybe it's just not my kind of joke.

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