Release Date: Jan 21, 2014
Record label: Total Treble
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
"You've got no cunt in your strut," snarls Laura Jane Grace in the rumbling title track of the Florida punks' sixth full-length. The lead singer of Against Me! has never shied away from provocative lyrics, but instead of rallying against the revolving world, Grace looks inward and employs conviction unheard since their 2002 debut, Reinventing Axl Rose. Here Grace, who in 2012 announced she is transgender, steps away from being the voice of an anarchist scene and instead asks honest questions about her own fate.
Review Summary: Transgender Dysphoria Blues is catchy and important as fuck. Listen to it. You could write entire essays on the importance of Laura Jane Grace making the full switch to a woman, about what it means for Transexuals in modern society and culture, what it could mean for a traditionally patriarchal (and surprisingly intolerant) punk rock scene, and what her coming out means for so many people across the world.
Whether you’ve followed since last year or just recently caught up, the story of Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace has been incredible to watch, and probably the most punk-rock story in the new millennium. In case you’ve been on a months-long fishing trip over the course of the press cycle behind Transgender Dysphoria Blues, Grace (formerly Thomas Gabel) revealed that she was set to transition from male to female last May in a tell-all Rolling Stone feature. And as much of a shock as it was in the punk community to see Grace—her first printed appearance showed her cross-legged and freshly showered, sporting a towel over shaved legs and another drying her hair—it’s exactly the kind of move that punk rock itself (well, a perfect vision of it) should be there to support.
To call Transgender Dysphoria Blues the album of Laura Jane Grace's life may be accurate, but it also suggests that this, Against Me!'s sixth studio record, is autobiographical, which isn't strictly true. Originally, Grace conceived the project as a concept album about a transsexual prostitute, but during the record's earliest stages, Grace revealed first to her band and then to the world at large (via a 2012 article in Rolling Stone) that she herself was a transgender woman. Once Grace went public with her transition, the dynamics of the record and the band itself shifted.
It’s not like she hasn’t tried to talk about it before. Going back as far as 2002’s ‘The Disco Before The Breakdown’, fixation with the body and ostracised sexuality has bubbled below the surface of Laura Jane Grace’s lyricism. These references became more overt on 2006’s ‘Searching For A Former Clarity’, telling stories of “dressing up in women’s clothes, compulsions you never knew the reasons to”, before 2007’s ‘The Ocean’ gave it to us undisguised: “If I could have chosen, I would have been born a woman.
Part of you tries to be objective about the fact that Tom James Gabel is now Laura Jane Grace, and just go about the business of Against Me!’s sleek, crunching nu-punk with angst-laden lyrics. But, as the record’s title suggests, it’s not something meant to be ignored and, thankfully, Grace is in-your-face with an aggressively told tale of selfhood (to say nothing of the heartbreak of loss) at its most exposed and anthemic. The title track and “True Trans Soul Rebel” act as a one-two-punch introduction to Grace’s gall, with the guttural “Drinking with the Jocks” an icy ode to the hazards of the life she once looked upon.
Chances are if you know Against Me!, you know the story of lead singer Laura Jane Grace. The title of the band’s new album Transgender Dysphoria Blues is quick to remind you of what Grace has been through. But let’s set that aside for just a minute. First we should remember that Against Me! is a band that has spent two major-label albums (and even before that) grappling with the confusions and contradictions of music culture, from corporate rock to the punk ethos they rose out of.
Since you are currently reading Punknews.org, you are no doubt familiar with the backstory of Transgender Dysphoria Blues. If, however, you've been living under a rock for the last three or so years, here's the Cliff Notes version: Band leaves major label, drummer leaves band, is replaced by young gun who reinvigorates band's live show, band forms own label, vocalist comes out as transgender, band begins recording album. Drummer leaves band abruptly, band cancels tour with Bad Religion.
“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.
Against Me! began in 1997 as Florida-based Laura Jane Grace's solo acoustic punk act, budding into an electric quartet who'd go on to chart success with the plush, Butch Vig-assisted fare of two major label albums: 2007's New Wave and 2010's White Crosses. When LJG came out as transgender in 2012, fans were supportive, though some fretted over how it might affect her voice – as if womanhood would assuage that roar! LJG has described the making of the sixth Against Me! album as arduous. But Transgender Dysphoria Blues feels ragingly triumphant: 29 minutes of gritty, melodic punk rock that drops tempo just once, on the faintly morbid lullaby of Two Coffins.
It’s been easy to disagree about the fluid and often conflicting ideology of Against Me! over the years. They were born to the Gainesville, Fla., scene as anarcho-punks, wearing black and fully DIY; NOFX's Fat Mike offered the band some money and off they went to his Fat Wreck label, a farm league for the majors where bands could slug Bro Hymns to the kids at Warped Tour. Then Sire offered them even more money so they went up to a major, effectively jettisoning any remaining Reinventing Axl Rose ideologues.
Let’s not frame this as a rebirth. Transgender Dysphoria Blues doesn’t reinvent Against Me! — it crystallizes everything that the band has grown to be over the past decade. But there’s something incredibly cathartic about getting to hear Laura Jane Grace (formerly known as Tom Gabel) sing about what she’s been singing around for years. All the subtext buried in the band’s back catalog, all the tension that comes with living invisibly female in an androcentric industry and a transphobic society, it’s all finally laid bare.
Commercial US punk rock isn’t currently known for its thoughtful tackling of weighty issues. “Despite Green Day’s latter atonements, since Rancid’s semi-political dabblings, by and large the genre has become more of a soundtrack to 2am beer pong tournaments than a spotlight on persecution and prejudice. Here’s looking at you, Green Day. Against Me!’s sixth album, however, is not simply music to carve an apple bong to.
After releasing two amazing major-label albums so polished they slipped right through punks' fingers, Against Me! are back, with no major behind them and with two new members, not to mention a decidedly more aggressive album. It's easy to miss the perfect, slick arena punk of their major-label duo of discs, but this one has all the energy and melodies of those songs, with a lot more anger behind it all. "Dead Friends" and "Paralytic States" bring the melodies and pull at the heartstrings in the best of ways, while the inexplicably titled "FUCKMYLIFE666" sounds even better here than it did in its previous acoustic form.
"There's a brave new world that's raging inside of me," rages Against Me! frontwoman Laura Jane Grace – formerly frontman Tom James Gabel – on "FuckMyLife666," the melodic and emotional peak of the band's first LP since Grace came out as transgender. A series of bracing songs about a self-destructive girl in a boy's body, it's a thematic offspring of Lou Reed (see Berlin, etc.). Musically, it sticks to the band's established brand of warrior-cry punk metal.
Far from being a haven for outsiders, American punk has become a highly normative genre, where difference is easily punished. Enter Against Me!, melodic, political Florida punks of some years' standing. Roughly a year and a half ago, their singer announced she wanted to live as a woman. Laura Jane Grace's voice remains unchanged but this refreshing concept album now explores the complexities of double lives, love and loyalty (the shout-along Unconditional Love, the title track), while remaining as accessible and pogo-friendly as Green Day.
Against Me! - Transgender Dysphoria Blues Plain and simple, Transgender Dysphoria Blues is Against Me!'s best album since 2002's Reinventing Axl Rose. It's also their most emotionally-cutting. On the production side, the album is unrelentingly catchy and propulsive, like decades of angst and suppression unleashing itself in half an hour. Lyrically, Transgender Dysphoria Blues is a powerhouse showing for Laura Jane Grace.
Against Me! has always been the Tom Gabel show. As the founder, singer-guitarist, and sole constant member of the Florida-based punk band since its inception in 1997, Gabel has sung candidly, if not brazenly, about the most intimate of topics, and in doing so he built up a cult following around his public identity. So what happens when that identity is cast in a new light? Gabel came out as transgender in 2012 and is now Laura Jane Grace, and Transgender Dysphoria Blues is Against Me!’s first album since that revelation.
When a pop-punk song is as good as 'Black Me Out', the final track on Against Me's sixth studio album Transgender Dysphoria Blues, it turns fantasy to life. Its components become satisfactions: the spiky, masterfully revealed guitar riff and marching drumbeat take the song's desires – Laura Jane Grace's protestation that she will never "talk that away again", or "know people like that anymore" – and fulfil them. Beyond anything else the song can do, like inspire a generation of songwriters, or bookend a masterpiece, or make an important statement, that is the songwriting dream.
Transgender Dysphoria Blues, Againt Me!’s eleventh full-length, has been four long years in the making. During that gap, the band and its members have seen a lot of change. Most notably, lead singer Tom Gabel now goes by Laura Jane Grace. Bassist of ten years, Andrew Seward, amicably departed to pursue other projects, and drummer Jay Weinberg, Max Weinberg’s son, also left the band.
Early in “I Still Love You Julie,” the best song from Against Me!’s scrappily charming debut LP, Reinventing Axl Rose (2002), frontwoman Laura Jane Grace tells of an evening where she “sang along to the songs I never had the courage to write. ” Known as Tom Gabel when she sang that line, Grace publicly came out as transgender in 2012, detailing her lifelong struggle with gender dysphoria to Rolling Stone in a moving, candid interview. Against Me!’s latest album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, deals in large part with Grace’s emotional trials as a transgender woman and in its greatest moments achieves a raw confessionalism almost unmatched in recent pop history.
It’s been nearly four years since Against Me!’s last release, 2010’s glossy, disappointing White Crosses. Since then, they left Sire Records, the rhythm section bailed, Butch Vig didn’t lower his studio rates—oh yeah, and frontman Tom Gabel is now frontwoman Laura Jane Grace. It’s that last topic that drives the bulk of Transgender Dysphoria Blues’ 10 tracks, but it’s done so in a way that makes the topic of gender identity disorder approachable through universal feelings of alienation (“Drinking With The Jocks”) confusion (the title track) and finding true love (“Two Coffins”).