Release Date: Sep 16, 2016
Record label: Total Treble
Laura Jane Grace treated Transgender Dysphoria Blues as a coming-out party, letting every aspect of her sexuality flood out in a torrent. After such a lacerating album, where does one go? Shape Shift with Me, an album recorded with a new lineup of Against Me! that's still anchored by Grace and guitarist James Bowman, goes a long way toward addressing that question. As an album, Shape Shift with Me doesn't feel as urgent as Transgender Dysphoria Blues.
Punk is political. In the option to tackle the world with a clenched fist in the air and biting tongue, it can often inadvertently cause bands to skirt some of the simpler things in life. Take the L world for example: love. It’s actually far from a simple thing, really, but Against Me! put all spectrums of the feeling under the microscope in ways they previously felt they couldn’t, and - in their own words - this time around did not give a shit about expectations.
When Against Me! singer Laura Jane Grace came out as transgender in 2012, it felt like a radical and important moment for a punk scene that was inching towards staid heritage status. The album that followed her transition, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, was no less striking: a sprawling punk opus that was unflinchingly honest and, surprisingly, a lot of fun. Following up such a seismic work was always likely to be a challenge and, sensibly, Against Me! have chosen evolution rather than revolution with this, their seventh album.
For their seventh album, Against Me! stuck with the abrasive punk approach of Transgender Dysphoria Blues, but brought back a bit more of the pop element that they do so well that their last album ignored. Look no further than the excellent "Crash" for the best example of that: the band always sound best when they're dangerous yet radio-ready, on this song doing all that while rocking like '70s KISS filtered through the slickest of Against Me! tunes. It rules, and is hands down the best song they've written in years.The album isn't all poppy though, and the aggression is definitely still there: crazed opener "ProVision L-3" barely even sounds like Against Me!, coming across more like raging hardcore.
Shape Shift With Me is, according to Against Me! singer and guitarist Laura Jane Grace, an album about relationships from a trans perspective. “Trans people should be able to fall in love and sing love songs too, and have that be just as valid,” she said in a recent interview with EW. In some ways it is more precisely a breakup record; the relationships described in the songs seem to radiate from a locus of rupture.
Sustaining a decade-plus-long stint in the music industry is usually a study in transformation, even without the help of a mid-career identity crisis. In 2014, Against Me! released Transgender Dysphoria Blues, a powerful barnburner, finding Laura Jane Grace as angry and cynical as ever, but also a little bit euphoric — she was singing as her true self for the first time, and despite the growl in her voice, it was a joyous thing. In many ways, the four-piece’s newest release, Shape Shift with Me, is a continuation of the return to true punk form that started with Transgender, stripped of the arena rock sensibilities (and the influences of producer Butch Vig) that permeated 2007’s New Wave and 2010’s White Crosses.
Following up a landmark album is a difficult task. For Against Me! and their frontwoman/songwriter Laura Jane Grace, that landmark was 2014’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Grace came out as a transgender woman in 2012, but Blues was her first time directly addressing that experience on an album. While the record didn’t spend every song talking about transgender issues, Grace’s newly public perspective permeated the album.
Power and aggression have always been at the core of the Against Me! formula, from the band's revved-up take on pop-punk to lead singer Laura Jane Grace's nihilistic acrimony. On 2014's Transgender Dysphoria Blues, the group's first release after Grace came out as a transgender woman, this sonic assault turned personal; the result was a devastating and modern take on Grace's own transition, told through the lens of a fictional prostitute. The album and its concept allowed Grace to announce a pivotal life change, but with a robust sound that suggested she was the same as ever.
'When you feel targeted as a transperson, the natural inclination is to go into hiding,' Against Me!'s transgender frontwoman Laura Jane Grace told BuzzFeed recently. This was in response to the suggestion that the band should cancel a concert in North Carolina with regards to the state's controversial equality laws. 'But visibility is more important than ever; to go there and have the platform of a stage to stand on and speak your mind and represent yourself.
On Against Me!'s explosive punk-rock treatise, 2014's Transgender Dysphoria Blues, frontwoman Laura Jane Grace, who came out as trans in 2012, sang a battle cry for the freedom to live her truth. But the Florida punks' most recent LP begs a thornier question: How do you find love inside that freedom? This wouldn't really be an AM! record without an opening track like "ProVision L-3," a blistering repudiation of U.S. surveillance culture.
Iam 19 and we just broke up and my ears want loud things. I ask Lauren, tattooed whirl of a bartender, petting a potted plant (“they can feel it, you know?”) if she’s heard the new Against Me! record. “They’re a little mainstream for me, you know? Arena rock, right?” I confront how invested she is in stroking that particular fern. I decide against investing too much in what Lauren says.
Punk will never die. EDM will be our generation’s disco — count on that. Rock & Roll will come and go 5 more times in your lifetime, but punk will never be defeated. Why? Because there will always be something to rebel against, some establishment to hate, some teenagers to inspire. One of the ….
Dust Vol. 2, No. 21Rob Noyes photo by Lindsay MetivierFor our final Dust of the year, our writers attacked their to-do lists with unusual force, as we all made an effort to finish off 2016 with a clean slate. The result is one of our longest and most varied round-ups ever. Bill Meyer, Ian Mathers ….
‘Shape Shift With Me’, the seventh album from Florida hardcore punks Against Me!, is a collection of love songs, mostly dealing with heartbreak. Through the churning power chords of ‘Crash’ (which features a single tinkle of triangle that indicates the record’s poppier sensibilities), Laura Jane Grace barks, “What happened to us?”, concluding that “the DNA has changed”.It comes after a period of enormous personal change for Grace, who came out as a transgender woman via an interview with Rolling Stone in 2012. Her wife, the artist Heather Hannoura, gave a moving interview to Cosmopolitan in which she insisted that their relationship would last.
The Florida-born Against Me! has been one of the standard-bearers of politicized nth-generation punk since their debut in 1998, thanks to the strangled voice and beauty-in-ugliness lyrics of singer-guitarist Laura Jane Grace. Her ability to sound like a truth-teller, with her points surrounded by a maelstrom of riffs and blitzkrieg drums, has only gotten stronger since she cut her band’s first demo nearly two decades ago. On the new Against Me! album, “Shape Shift With Me,” she’s shifting her focus a bit.
For more than 15 years, Against Me! has explored Laura Jane Grace’s private interactions with various political realities that annoy and exasperate her; going public as a transgender woman in 2012 opened the door to a fresh trove of such material for 2014’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Having said so much on that record—and, perhaps, given how much others have said on issues of transgender rights and societal acceptance in recent years—it makes sense that Grace has eased off similar observations for Shape Shift With Me. As that title suggests, it’s a much more personal album, dealing largely with romance and other sticky matters of the heart.
Transgender Dysphoria Blues, Against Me!’s 2014 career-defining masterwork and the best punk LP of the decade, was an album about inflection points, a conceptual piece by the newly female-presenting Laura Jane Grace on the terrifying rush of the moments on which everything hinges. Two years later (and two more since Grace’s 2012 public rebirth), Shape Shift With Me turns its attention to the living that follows, the sometimes-perilous but often mundane navigation of a re-cast life. Shape Shift With Me is being presented as Grace’s most personal work, the one that finally turns away from geopolitics and toward the politics of the heart.