Trans Am: Volume X

(Thrill Jockey, 5/20/14)

"I'll Never (Alternate Version)"

The tenth studio full-length from Trans Am sees the groundbreaking synth trio once again putting fresh spins on its established repertoire of styles, which include prog, kraut rock, John Carpenter-esque atmospheres, and, this time, even a riff inspired by early Metallica.

As always, though, Trans Am walks a fine line between irony and sincerity, parody and homage. Never content to play along with any one genre’s set of codes, the members of Trans Am—Philip Manley, Nathan Means, and Sebastian Thomson—behave almost like interlopers in the way that they appropriate existing musical vocabularies.

With that said, the band’s stock in trade is to somehow turn its playful sense of irreverence into thoroughly convincing music that “rocks” — even when it doesn’t. By now, familiar listeners will know more or less what to expect in terms of the basic building blocks that Trans Am prefers to work with. But after almost 25 years at the cutting edge of experimental music, it’s no small feat—in fact, a minor miracle—that Trans Am somehow continues to keep us on our toes.

Volume X makes a definitive statement from a band that clearly hasn’t exhausted its creative potential, or its enthusiasm to achieve it.