The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Trans Am
Volume X Nick Hutchings , September 23rd, 2014 09:30

Volume X is an album title which is both descriptive and prescriptive. It's the tenth album by Trans Am, but also the volume at which their expansive music is best played at. They've always defied description, and each album feels like a journey into stereophonic sound where they haven't bothered to lay a trail to find their way back. At times it's been menacing motorik like on Trans Am or Surrender To The Night, some have been ominously prophetic like Futureworld, while others have been enjoyably nihilistic like TA or Sex Change. Gratifyingly, Volume X encompasses aspects of all three, and although the sounds that come from ever-presents Phil Manley, Nathan Means and Sebastian Thomson are serious, they never take themselves too seriously.

Although they are far more than the sum of these parts, you can rely on a Trans Am record to include Casios, mangled vocal effects and a yen for dance and 70s metal. It sounds like a sick-inducing smorgasbord when you see it written down like that, but there's always an insistent groove, best embodied here on second song 'Reevaluations'. It's constant re-evaluation one assumes that makes Trans Am tick, and this song falls somewhere between Kraftwerk's 'Metal On Metal', The Clash's 'Outside Broadcast' and John Carpenter's 'Assault On Precinct 13'. There may be no hover boards or flying cars out in the real world, but in the rarefied atmosphere of Trans Am's The Bridge Studio they are always doubling back to the future. 'Night Shift' is a gear change down into the world of Vangelis. The kind of music you'd watch Gary Numan fly around an air show in his Mitsubishi Zero to. After the aforementioned comedy of 'K Street' its back in the realms of a Carpenter slasher flick on the way into the ferocious 'Backlash' which whips up a storm that is Slayer's 'Angel Of Death' assisted by hissing serpentine synths. At 1:43 the guitar shreds rip a hole in the space time continuum through which we fall into Sheffield circa 1991 with track 'Ice Fortress' which could easily be a peak time Warp Records release.

The syncopated shuffling of the drums on 'Failure' is reminiscent of this year's Mogwai record, a feeling perpetuated by the melancholic 'I'll Never' which is almost a dead-ringer for Rave Tapes closer 'The Lord Is Out Of Control' with a soupcon of Casablancas' downbeat Daft Punk vocal on 'Instant Crush'. Nathan Means intones "I’ll never get over you" and although it's altered by the vocoder, there's nothing affected about the sentiment. You know he means it sincerely, and if this is a moment (or possibly an album) that encompasses a relationship breakup, it's about to breakdown beyond recognition in the eye of Volume X highlight, the floridly titled 'Megastorm'. It's definitely epic and the rain of emotions is torrential, with a bassline that's equally tempestuous. If that was where the album ended you would be left floundering and sodden, but the strumming calm of 'Insufficiently Breathless' eases you out into the run off groove of the mind, at peace in your own future world.

Trans Am's love for old keyboards and warped retro visions of the future may for some seem a scary prospect, as if the rollercoaster at Coney Island had been festooned with neon lights, but if you buckle in and sit back, every album has a different twist and turn that can catch you unawares and catch your breath. Volume X is no exception, and although it feels they've truly thrown the kitchen sink and their full repertoire of synth syncopation at it this time, it's truly a thrilling and spine chilling ride, one that leaves your bones shaken to the core.