You could call it punk. But that wouldn’t be quite right. You could consider it hardcore. But then, hardcore doesn’t use synthesizers. Perhaps you would rather label it reggae. But reggae tends to shy away from themes revolving around coke and “honeys.”
What, then? Though most of the songs on the self-titled debut album from Transplants can fit into one of these genres, the album as a whole cannot. This musical side project from Rancid’s Tim Armstrong may come as a disappointment to Rancid fans expecting an edgy punk album hyped-up on speed. While Armstrong retains his cigarette -hangover rasp and slurred lyrics, second vocalist Rob “SR” Aston dominates the album, with his rough-edged hardcore screams and raps.
Drummer Travis Barker from Blink-182 (I hear hissing from gutter-punks across America), finishes off the unlikely trio. The different musical experiences of these three, who formed the band in 1999, could possibly account for some of the musical apparent lack of focus. With its blend of computer-generated beats and Armstrong’s piano backgrounds laced throughout the album, the music is what makes it stray from the punk album norm.
The album starts out with “Romper Stomper,” which features the rough guitar sounds of a hardcore riff that gradually gives way to a series of synthesized beats. The record quickly moves into a rap experiment on “Tall Cans in the Air” and “D.R.E.A.M,” a play on Wu-Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M.” In these two songs, Transplants have chosen the “smokin’ chronic” lines of rap while leaving the deeper lyrics behind. The content is superficial, even laughable, but it’s doubtful the lyrics were written with the intention of deep emotional quality. Rather they seem to work as amusing breaks from the songs of pain and redemption.
In the slower, obviously reggae-inspired stints, such as “California Babylon” and “We Trusted You,” Armstrong alters his trademark toneless singing. His voice takes on a rhythm that thankfully doesn’t conjure up the image of a white boy with dreads trying to rap on a street corner. He achieves this by singing in a fixed reggae beat but keeping his natural gravelly tones.
Armstrong, known for his musical experimentation, has worked with Aston and Barker to create a surprisingly strong record from an incomprehensible mix of punk, hardcore, rap, reggae, and random instrumental effects. The opposing qualities of Armstrong’s and Aston’s voices are molded to the appropriate musical effects, creating a pleasantly discordant sound. While Aston’s attempt to connect with the rap world remains questionable, the album brings a swirl of musical sounds that leave the listener confused, bewildered and smiling.