A lot has changed for Against Me! in the three and a half years since their last album, White Crosses, came out. The band changed drummers twice, and bassist Andrew Seward left the band after being a member for more than a decade. The most notable change was a personal one, as singer Laura Jane Grace, formerly known as Tom Gabel, publicly came out as transgendered and announced her plans to become a woman. Grace wrote and composed all ten tracks on the excellent Transgender Dysphoria Blues, and they are heavily influenced by her decision to come out. As a whole, they are the most personal and affecting songs she has ever written, making the album perhaps the strongest Against Me! release to date.
The band’s albums have always been angry and politically charged, but that trick had been growing old by the time White Crosses came out. What makes Transgender Dysphoria Blues so strong is that by making these songs about personal struggles, Grace injects them with a fiery sense of immediacy and resonance that had been starting to wear off. After the bassist and drummer departed, Grace contemplated ending the band. She decided not to, saying, “If I didn’t feel like I had something that I really needed to say with the album we’ve been working on for the past year then I’d humbly hang the hat and move on.” This album feels like Grace has something important to say, and is better off for it.
Clocking in at a tight 29 minutes, Transgender Dysphoria Blues is an enrapturing listen that never overstays its welcome. While it is definitely not lo-fi, the ultra sleek production of the last album has been reduced, which helps make the music easier to connect to. That doesn’t mean Grace hasn’t lost her knack for crafting fiery anthems with catchy hooks, as songs like “True Trans Soul Rebel” and “Fuckmylife666” have some of the most memorable choruses she’s ever written. While the band’s Springsteen influence is still intact, the forays into darker themes alongside these powerful tunes recall The Replacements at times. Grace’s voice is still as gruff as ever, and it helps give a certain edge and vitriol to her songs.
Grace’s decision to out herself was a momentous occasion, both for her personally and for punk rock in general. She addresses this head-on from the start, opening the album on the title track with the lines “Your tells are too obvious, shoulders too broad for a girl,” before going into the many challenges she faces on a daily basis. From there, she delves into other personal issues such as the relationship with her wife, the loss of friends and the creeping threat of death. Everything comes together on the incredible closer, “Black Me Out," as Laura gives a voice to anyone who’s ever been taken advantage of or made to feel as if they were less than worthwhile.
Grace’s songwriting is sharper on an album where the music is a little messier than it’s been on the last few Against Me! albums. By airing out her struggles, she is able to give a voice to the countless that relate to what she goes through. Transgender Dysphoria Blues is an album that should touch a lot of people’s lives, and is easily the first great record of 2014.
Artist: Against Me!
Album: Transgender Dysphoria Blues
Label: Total Treble Music
Songs to download: “Transgender Dysphoria Blues," “True Trans Soul Rebel" and “Black Me Out”