Hope this statement isn’t too obvious a play on the band’s name, but it does point out a problem: This Trans Am isn’t as tricked-out as it used to be. A band that on early albums Futureworld (1999) and Red Line (2000) explored sounds as divergent as Kraftwerk grooves, Spacemen 3 drone, Eno ambience, Tortoise-like post-rock and Zeppelin riffs now seems content to toe a line between Surrender-era Chemical Brothers glitch pop and the instrumental meandering of a band like Lanterna. Problem is, Trans Am does neither one very interestingly.
Another shortcoming is that Trans Am doesn’t attempt to follow up on the thematic centeredness of its previous album, 2004’s Liberation. That work analyzed life in the band’s hometown of D.C. under King Bush the Second. Sex Change is certainly an interesting name, but Trans Am doesn’t do anything with it, unless you count the funky robo-grooves of “Obscene Strategies.” The only thing possibly political on the album is “Exit Management Solution.” It can’t be coincidence that it’s the shortest track here, a frilly nothing that suggests we have nothing viable as an exit-solution for Iraq. Even wittier, the song sounds like it would work perfectly as the score to a Halliburton promotional video.
Oddest of all is that toward the end of Sex Change Trans Am tries its hardest to morph into Pelican or Isis. The last four tracks build and build, ramping up the thrash. Everything finally does come to a rewarding payoff with the ringing lone guitar work at the end of “Triangular Pyramid,” but the long drive to get there is rather boring.