A fairly mainstream voice of the voiceless.
Against Me! has always been a good band but recently they’ve become an important band. Once Laura Jane Grace was introduced to the world on Transgender Dysphoria Blues (a required-listen from 2014), the band became a fairly mainstream voice of the voiceless. While Dysphoria was a transformation record wrapped in metaphor, Shape Shift with Me is something else entirely. But its mission is perhaps all the more revelatory and significant as a result.
Shape Shift with Me is decidedly more punk rock than Dysphoria. It’s almost as if Against Me! made it a point to pull up roots in order to better inform a more personal and intense set of lyrics. “ProVision L-3” and “Dead Rats,” for example, bring all the fuzz and fury needed to not only sing an urgent tune, but to ram that urgency down the throats of people who may not want to listen. You want people to listen? You want people to change? These are tunes that will make people listen, and make sure that people know the binary mainstream world is a fantasy. The guitars are heavily distorted, Grace sings with that famous growl to her voice and the bass is fuzzy enough to sound like static through your speakers. Considering these songs come from Grace’s own experiences with love, sex and hatred as a transgender woman, all the abrasive sounds and lyrical imagery involved enhance the urgency tenfold as well.
Of course, the band continues to press on with many of the sounds, tone and structures found on Dysphoria, but tracks like “Boyfriend” and “Norse Truth” show that while Grace isn’t afraid to take a look at her back catalogue for inspiration, she’s also willing to collaborate on something wholly new. Once “Norse Truth” pumps through your stereo with its pseudo-spoken word lyrical melodies and its raw musical nastiness, it’s almost like a looking into the future. You’ll know what you’ll possibly could be getting in a year or two or, if Grace has her way, 20 years.
“Haunted, Haunting, Haunts” is a tremendous old/new school Against Me! up-tempo cow-punk anthem that along with “Crash,” “Suicide Bomber” and “All of This (and More)” has hooks that will break your heart, make you want to sing along and ultimately better your understanding of Grace’s perspective. From the thinly distorted, dramatic indie-rock sounds of “Crash” to the nearly pop punk vibe of “Rebecca”—complete with a manufactured-for-radio guitar riff—Against Me! runs the musical gamut in varied, exciting and, most importantly, seamless ways. Considering all of the punk rock and rock ‘n’ roll subgenres touched on as the album weaves between tinnitus-inducing heavy grit to lighter, catchier indie earworms, it’s quite a feat to make it all work. But they do, and it makes for wild forty minutes.
Transgender Dysphoria Blues and Shape Shift with Me show two very different sides of Grace’s struggles, triumphs and everything in between. Her latest album gives listeners the gut-check realities of a personal experience with the music to match the ups and downs. If you’re willing to listen, you’re in for a real treat. If you’re not willing to listen, chances are you’ll be hearing it anyway, and you should probably get with the program.