It’s important while listening to Against Me!’s latest release Transgender Dysphoria Blues to separate what it means for a band to have new life given to it.
While much has changed in the band’s camp both literally and mentally it’s the same band in sound that it has been for several records. What has been given new life is the outlook but not the purpose mainly because of lead singer Laura Jean Grace’s coming out as a transgender; a ballsy move in current music but also probably the most accepting thing that can happen in the open and often misfit world of punk rock.
Transgender Dysphoria Blues has all the makings of a punk rock record and continues on many of the themes that the Florida outfit have highlighted in their recordings- self loathing, alienation and searching for acceptance- which in the band’s current state takes on all new meaning. Between losing key members Andrew Seward and Jay Weinberg and Grace’s coming out in 2012 a lot has altered the shape but not the mindset of Against Me! But the rallying cry rings true on their long awaited sixth full length and the result is 30 minutes of power, aggression, and anthem inducing tracks that commentate on the current state of our society. Basically, no new ground for Against Me! But damn is it good!
The band’s continuous move from the simplistically punk to the rollicking revolutionary hopefuls of a changing music scene has alienated but given prosperity to the band’s placement in the current music landscape. For this maybe the former Tom Gabel needed the doors to swing open to stop dancing around the thoughts that made everything so angsty and uprising in the first place. “Transgender” is by no means missing the anger and call to arms nature that the band’s music elicits but it’s also very upfront with its mission statement. The title track feels like the music interpretation of Grace’s coming out to Rolling Stone talking about the struggle of acceptance that has no doubt circled her in the aftermath of that declaration. The looks, the glares and the words probably have hurt but through Grace’s trademark growl and blaring vocals nothing seems to phase the impact of the words and music.
The title track isn’t the only track to discuss the thoughts and feelings of Grace’s new life as both subsequent numbers “True Trans Soul Rebel” and “Unconditional Love” pull no punches in being about being an outspoken outlaw in ones’ choices. “Drinking with the Jocks” is a full scale act of ill will scratching away the remaining traits that once plagued Grace’s expectations of masculinity she no doubt grew up with along the hot Florida waters. In many ways the point here is new life to Against Me’s principle hero and not the band as all the grit and grime remains fast, ready, and easy to throw action at. Even the tracks that don’t focus on Grace’s turmoils and realizations like “Dead Friend” and “Black Me Out” draw heavy on the subject matter making them more than a traditional trait of the band’s often politically tinged output.
Social and political statements aside, Transgender Dysphoria Blues is a pull no punches and layer no sound exploration into 21st century punk rock constantly throwing a fist and singing loud at every corner. It may not be a new beginning within the context of these punk mainstays but its a potent often uplifting record that shows no shame and breathes realized and recognized air into an already palpable and sound defining band.