Trans Am: Sex Change

Trans Am
Sex Change
Thrill Jockey

On Trans Am's 2004 album, Liberation, the band waged sonic warfare against George Bush's America with a brooding, politically infused work punctuated by police sirens, chopper blades, and sound bites from "43" himself. But much like John Kerry's presidential campaign, all this anti-Bush vitriol did not add up to the desired result; the album lashed out but ultimately fell short as a cohesive political argument or musical statement.

Liberation must have left the band looking for change, because the trio split their home base of Washington, D.C., after its release and scattered across the globe: Nathan Means to Auckland, Phil Manley to San Francisco, and Sebastian Thomson to London and New York.

The change of scenery seems to have done them good. Regrouping in New Zealand last year to record Sex Change, post-rock's poster children came up with a novel technique for altering their sound—they left their instruments at home. Using almost exclusively borrowed equipment, Trans Am parted with their signature vocoder (except on the spectral post-disco track, "Climbing Up the Ladder, Parts III and IV") and produced an album with an effervescent, synth-pop soul.

Free of the gloomy guitar-noodling Krautrock that has plagued previous Trans Am releases, Sex Change is unabashedly fun. Album opener "First Words" sets the tone with a shimmering evocation of early Depeche Mode, while the gorgeous "4,738 Regrets"—a lilting piece of synthesizer-driven pop—stands as one of the prettiest songs in the Trans Am catalog. The guitars come out in full force at album's end, on "Shining Path" and "Triangular Period," a return to form which serves to remind that while Trans Am crafted a novel sound on Sex Change, they did it on borrowed instruments.