Against Me! – Shape Shift With Me
Released: 16th Sept 2016
Laura Jane Grace – vocals, guitar
James Bowman – vocals, guitar
Inge Johansson – bass
Atom Willard – Drums
Tom Gabel becoming Laura Jane Grace has been a dizzyingly gargantuan revelation in cultures both popular and counter. Although widely embraced, revered, and rewarded for her earnest approach to life as transgender, Against Me’s frontwoman has, in spite of unprecedented fame and acknowledgement, done it fucking tough since deciding to transition three-odd years ago. Painful hormone balancing, addiction, unrequited love as a trans-person, and the earth-shattering dissolution of her marriage have turned life since becoming her new self in to a tumultuous state of flux.
Shape Shift With Me follows a similar thematic vein to 2014’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues; Grace still evokes a great deal of emotional rawness and honesty in her lyrics. Few things about the progress of her transitioning are taboo, and although the band may sing a great deal less about political activism and anarchy these days, Grace’s gender identity and society’s archaic attempts to subjugate minorities of sexual identity are more relevant and powerful in 2016 than another song about how the government sucks could ever be.
Album opener ProVision L-3 appears to use the name of a state-of-the-art airport x-ray machine as a metaphor for what people may truly see when they look at Laura, or even straight through her. It’s gripping from the get go, and sets an excellent tone for the album to come.
Melancholic chords and immediate lyrics of a day in Grace’s life are the heartbeat of 12-3, the album’s second track. It’s quintessential, fast-paced Against Me! and, coincidentally or otherwise, bears a similar structure and sound to True Trans Soul Rebel; the second song from AM!’s previous album. That coincidence (or intention) is far from a bad thing.
Boyfriend follows with oxymoronically engaging monotony. The meandering repetition of chords, and mantric lyric “You treated me like a boyfriend/ Just some fucking boyfriend” permeates autobiographical despondency. Break up songs this glum and effective are hard to come by.
Warm, fuzzy, minimalistic, and catchy as a hat full of STD’s, Crash might be Shape Shift With Me’s best song. If nothing else, it is certainly the most fun. Immensely relatable to anyone who’s ever had a good time and wishes that time never ended, this track will get an absolute punishing on repeat, and the film clip is goofy, DIY fun to the max, dude.
Laura calls a spade a spade with the lengthily titled Delicate, Petite, & Other Things I’ll Never Be. It’s no secret Grace has yearns to be accepted as the lithe woman she truly wishes to be; despite the broad male frame she was born to begrudgingly inhabit. This song sounds like it’s straight from the gut, with an abject, hollow guitar bleating behind the song’s verses, before rising to the forefront during bridges; lilting sadly like a depressed Micro Korg. Head back to track three it if Delicate… brings you that little too far down.
Thumping toms like a slo-mo d-beat matched with Grace’s polysyllabic crushes of predominantly tempo-less lyrics over a sorrowful and simple guitar lick ramble and engross awesomely in 333; the album’s first single. Inspired by a deeply affecting first visit to The Guggenheim, 333 is over far too soon for such an immediately powerful song.
Sounding like a ripper mash of the unprecedentedly raw Pints Of Guinness Make You Strong from their self-titled 2001 acoustic EP, and the beautifully painful The Ocean from the controversially mainstream fourth album New Wave, Haunting, Haunted, Haunts is a bloody great song. It’s uplifting in structure and theme, and hard to not listen to twice. If there’s one thing Against Me! does well, it’s write songs that inspire infectious energy; Haunting… is far from an exception.
Lengthy by comparison to the rest of the album’s relatively succinct track times, Dead Rats stomps along in deceptively catchy fashion, rife with meditations on discomfort and existentialism, before erupting to a blistering pace during its third act. The crescendo is surprising and welcomed in equal measure, and will bang many-a-head in live venues for tours to come.
Rebecca maintains the pace of Dead Rats’ finale, and then absolutely explodes as a sexually-driven, passionate song. ‘I don’t want to stand here next to you/ And pretend there’s something I don’t want to do/ When I just want to grab you by the skull/ Rebecca kiss me/ But let’s not fall in love’ barks Grace at her most unbridled. Evidently, a fling somewhere in the last few years left quite the impression. This song will make you want to go have the kind of sex teenagers dream about.
The powerfully but enigmatically titled Norse Truth is heavy and bleak, continuing the album’s third act pace-quickening. It is Against Me! by way of Max Bemis from Say Anything’s most cynical lyrical delivery. Maligned and confused by overwhelming heartbreak, Grace shouts a stream of consciousness over Bowman and Willard’s pulsating instrumental work. The bass is almost sub-audibly fuzzed out, like Inge Johansson is trying to subtly rattle the eyes from your head. Irresolute and damned, Norse Truth is vehemently engaging stuff.
Penultimate finisher Suicide Bomber maintains the fuzz, with a groovy guitar lick and tempo that’d make Josh Homme nod in arrogant approval. Falsetto backing vocals are brought to the front, adding a welcomed and harmonic depth to Grace’s iconically melodic shout. It’s a cruisy and evenly paced track that winds the album down in a well-structured fashion.
‘All this and more to forget’ repeats Grace throughout album closer All This And More. Although the tribulations and pain that have accompanied the last three years of Grace’s life are front and centre throughout all her current work, there is a very obvious sense of optimism as the album closes. Sure, there’s a huge amount of complicated things for the band and their inspiring front woman to confront both in their past and future; indeed, there is for all of us from time to time. Grace explores the concept of being content by extrapolating the things that didn’t and won’t make her feel so. It’s a kind and hopeful song in the face of physical and mental adversities, and will be sure to inspire belief in any listeners that don’t have much for themselves right now. At its core, all of the extremely powerful and engrossing Shape Shift With Me will do the same more and more with each listen.
Review by Todd Gingell (@ToddGingell)