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Sex Change

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Album Review

After Liberation, Trans Am's grim 2004 meditation on politics, war, and America, the band took a break and scattered across the globe, ending up in corners as far-flung as London, San Francisco, and Auckland, New Zealand. They reconvened in Auckland and New York to record Sex Change without any of their own instruments, and the results show just how much good the hiatus did the band: this is easily the most diverse, yet focused, work Trans Am has done since 2000's The Red Line. Unlike that album, however, Sex Change isn't an epic; only one song cracks the five-minute mark. Instead, this album is impeccably edited, boiled down to only the most interesting moments. The band trades in some of their more expected sounds, like heavy synth-bass and vocoders (which only pop up on "Climbing Up the Ladder (Pts. 3 & 4)") for fresher ones, like the lilting, African-inspired guitar melodies on the percolating opener "First Words" and "4,738 Regrets," a piece of shimmering pop that's among the prettiest tracks the band has ever recorded. Though Sex Change is a departure for the band, it's not quite as radical as the title implies: "Tesco v. Sainsburys"' driving synth rock is quintessential Trans Am, as are the equally kinetic "Conspiracy of the Gods" and "Exit Management Solution." The trio's sense of humor is still intact, especially on "Obscene Strategies," which was named after Trans Am's twist on Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt's creative problem-solving approach, Oblique Strategies. (The band's version suggests, "make it sound like Jackson Browne," instead of the original's pieces of advice like "List the qualities it has. List the qualities you'd like."). And when Trans Am taps into their inner rock beasts on the final two tracks, "Shining Path" and "Triangular Pyramid," it's a fitting close to one of Trans Am's most satisfying albums.


Formed: 1990 in Washington DC

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Trans Am are loosely associated with the mid-'90s post-rock scene centered around Tortoise, Ui, Labradford, Windy & Carl, etc., and the Thrill Jockey, Kranky, UHF, and Southern labels, among others. Although a vast distance separates Trans Am's albums, all of them are concerned with an extreme, somewhat humorous reorientation of the clichés and conventions of rock music, primarily through either technical (exaggerated displays of skill) or instrumental (electronics, effects) deviation. Formed in...
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Sex Change, Trans Am
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