Music for swinging around asteroids or hurtling down a ravine.
Nadine McBay 2009
Trans Am are never stationary, the Washington DC trio’s persistent touring matched by a continual stylistic evolution. But for all their progression, the three – bassist Nathan Means, guitarist Philip Manley and drummer Sebastian Thomson – have always looked back as well as forward, reimagining the past while drafting the future.
So it is that their first live album is a coupling of a DVD with two vinyl platters, the first three of its four sides relaying a typically kinetic LA show from April 2007, while the final, weightier side picks selections from two San Francisco gigs. Another Trans Am constant has been their association with Chicago’s Thrill Jockey. The label has set forth each of the band’s eight studio albums, including their 1970s-inspired 1996 eponymous debut, only one track from which – Firepoker – is included here. Though there’s nothing here from the following year’s Surrender to The Night or 1998’s The Surveillance, there’s three from 1999’s Futureworld, an album which foretold a grim synthetic destiny with clunking, Radiophonic Workshop off-cuts and Means’s vocodered warnings.
That the trio can view their music dispassionately – and assess what works best live – is clear: while there’s only one song from 2002’s icky electro-clash spoof T.A. (Positive People), there are three tracks from chugging career high The Red Line (2000) and the still-current return-to-form Sex Change (2007), plus three of the most lurching selections from 2004’s politically charged Liberation. Whereas that album was suffocated in post 9/11 paranoia, the successive Sex Change occasionally shimmered with kaleidoscopic pastoralism, especially on the likes of the Indian-influenced First Words. Still, they largely work well together here, Liberation’s acrobatic bass monster June nicely segueing into the jittery mania of Sex Change’s Tesco v. Sainsbury’s.
As well as their technical prowess and tongue-in-cheek subversion, a vital part of the Trans Am armoury is the diamond-sharp time-keeping of Thomson, especially live. Nimble, lithe and seemingly tireless, he’s like a dog with a itch, walloping the tom toms and cracking the snare with a dynamism that makes Trans Am perhaps the most thrilling (mostly) instrumental band of recent times. More than a holding operation while Thomson tours with Ian F. Svenonius as two-man funk caravan Publicist, this is travelling music for swinging around asteroids or hurtling down a ravine.