Trans Am

Thrill Jockey

As if embarrassed by their affinity for avant-garde sounds, Trans Am members Philip Manley (guitar and keyboards), Nathan Means (bass and keyboards), and Sebastian Thomson (drums) contrast their arty electronic jive with good old-fashioned cock rock. In the world of this jocular D.C. trio, nerdy record-collector-ish influences like Kraftwerk, Gary Numan, and Pan Sonic reconcile easily with muscular Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple riffs. Some have termed the band’s sound “post-rock,” but it’s more like pan-rock—music that recognizes no stylistic boundaries. Red Line, Trans Am’s fifth proper full-length—and a double album to boot—expands the group’s trademark genre-hopping into new areas with the addition of real singing, acoustic guitar, and sax. Pairing vocoder-driven vocals and sci-fi lyrics with an up-tempo barrage of keyboards and acoustic drums, “I Want It All” and “Polizei (Zu Spät)” kick off Red Line (as in “Red Line to Shady Grove”) with a double dose of bumpin’ electro. It’s a tight and inspired introduction. However, the remaining hour of the LP sprawls out in typical double-album fashion, alternating strong songs—like the epic acoustic math-rocker “The Dark Gift”—with sketches and experiments that probably wouldn’t make the cut on a more concise release. The distorted krautrock grind of “Play in the Summer” and “Ragged Agenda” (which cribs its lyrics from the Make*Up and its riff from Black Flag’s “Damaged II”) are obvious standouts, but less-assuming tracks like the percussive ethnic forgery “Casual Friday” and the icily techno-minimalist “Talk You All Tight” really show off Trans Am’s protean talent. Although neither as focused nor as straight-up ballsy as last year’s excellent Futureworld, Red Line still feels like a step in the right directions. —Brent Burton