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Against Me! - Transgender Dysphoria Blues

Sure, this is a punk album, but that feels more by chance than design.

“You’ve got no cunt in your strut / You’ve got no hips to shake / And you know it’s obvious / But we can’t choose how we’re made”

Against Me! have never been a band to pull punches. And from the opening track of the emphatically titled ‘Transgender Dysphoria Blues’ it’s apparent that nothing’s going to change in that department any time soon. It will come as a surprise to very few that the primary lyrical concern of the latest effort from the Gainesville stalwarts is singer Laura Jane Grace’s recent decision to live as a woman, but while this album is potently wrapped up in personal exorcism it also weaves in the most universal of themes: love, bereavement, fear and the sense of eternal, eroding self doubt.

The stripped-back instrumentation on offer here lets the soul baring take centre stage. The lush production that characterised 2010’s ‘White Crosses’ is eschewed in favour of more bite, more space in the mix and an uncluttered atmosphere for the introspection to take shape in. Sure, this is a punk album, but that feels more by chance than design. AM! have been there and back again, ripping up the rule book in the process and the songwriting on show palpably draws influence from the broadest range of influences. The ebbing, crafty riff of ‘Osama Bin Laden As The Crucified Christ’ feels almost Iommi-an in its lineage for example, while ‘Black Me Out’ draws on a deep well of rage and fashions it into something possessed of crystalline beauty.

What flows through ‘Transgender…’ above all else though is a sense of unflinching honesty. It is a record that plunges into Grace’s heart and refuses to shy away from what it finds. ‘Unconditional Love’ sees the frontwoman grasping at the prospect that the milk of human kindness isn’t really ever enough in our crushingly fucked up and atavistic world. Elsewhere, ‘Dead Friend’ is just a naked document to mourning, red raw but full of the numbness that so pervasively and infuriatingly accompanies the passing of a loved one. Yet despite it all this doesn’t feel like a downbeat album. The defiance of ‘FUCKMYLIFE666’ in the face of its own nihilism is quite something - Grace doesn’t want to live without teeth or die without bite and by fuck she most certainly is not.

It’s a body of work that marks an obvious period of transition for the band. Line up changes have no doubt contributed to the fact that this feels reminiscent of their output pre-‘New Wave’ and while AM! have always been political, this album is pointedly about the politics of emotion, the politics of the personal, the politics of sexuality, the politics of how you live your life every single day. Laura Jane Grace has penned not only an album of exquisitely realised, achingly charming rock songs but she has also cemented herself as one of the most vital, intriguing, engaging voices in modern punk rock. We have long needed a spokesperson like her and now here she is – telling us to be ourselves, to front up to whatever it is that lives inside us. So no, we can’t choose how we’re made but we can choose what we make, and what Against Me! have crafted here is nothing short of exceptional.

Tags: Against Me!, Reviews, Album Reviews

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