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Red Line

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Album Review

Ranging from stripped-down percussion pieces to menacing electro/Krautrock to nimble, acoustic melodies, Trans Am's sprawling The Red Line encompasses all of the group's previous musical territory and stakes a few new claims. Though "Polizei (Zu Spat)" and "I Want It All," with their swarming synths and processed vocals, could have appeared on the group's earlier albums, the untreated singing on poppy songs like "Play in the Summer," "I'm Coming Down," and "Slow Response" is a first, and a welcome surprise. Mixed in are reflective pieces like "Village in Bubbles" and "Now and Forever," which recall the guitar atmospherics of Trans Am's early days, and minimal, completely electronic tracks such as "Talk You All Tight" and "Lunar Landing."

Best of all is the album's centerpiece, "The Dark Gift," which begins with subtle acoustic guitars, explodes in a sonic maelstrom, and then gallops away on an intricate yet propulsive synth and guitar counterpoint. On paper it might sound self-indulgent, but it anchors The Red Line and condenses its diversity into one piece. Likewise, the final track "Shady Groove" transforms from synth meanderings to a ferocious, sax and drums workout that cuts off abruptly, as if choked by its own momentum.

Even with all of the album's eclecticism, The Red Line doesn't forget Trans Am's sense of humor, as song titles like "Where Do You Want to F**k Today?" and "Don't Bundle Me" prove. The guitar heroics on "Bad Cat" and "Ragged Agenda"'s impersonation of Suicide on speed and steroids reaffirm that the band can rock out in many different ways and still sound focused. At 21 wide-ranging tracks long, The Red Line is one of Trans Am's most impressive albums, but it's not their most immediately accessible one. However, after a few listenings, The Red Line reveals its full scope as an ambitious, diverse work from a group that never stands still.


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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Red Line, Trans Am
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