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Trans Am
(Thrill Jockey)

Having listened to all of their albums since Futureworld (as well as before), I think that it's going to be hard for Trans Am to ever beat that release. It was the album where the group managed to mix all their somewhat different influences and sounds into one album that captured perfectly what they were about and what they could do. It worked like a soundtrack to a bleak future and it worked as a flat-out rock album. Since that time, they've released the hit-or-miss Red Line, the über-cheese of TA, and the pretty horrible Extremixx.

After a short hiatus and a load of shit going down in their hometown of Washington D.C., the group is back with an ambitious, if flawed new album that once again tries to include many different things on one release, but unfortunately stumbles in several places. You may have already guessed from the title, but Liberation is Trans Am's stab at a political album. I'm as surprised as anyone that there have been so few good political albums (a few hip hop artist like Mr. Lif are about as good as it gets) released in the past couple years (when the time has been ripe for it), and with this disc Trans Am only manages to half-heartedly swish the pot instead of giving it a good stirring.

After a decent opening instrumental track, the album hits the first real blunder on "Uninvited Guest," a darkwave-sounding synth-driven track that floats edited speeches by the President GW Bush over the top for a statement. Provided that kind of audio-edited chops hadn't already been done to death, it might have been an interesting idea, but arriving almost 2 years after the Bushwacked crew originally did it, it feels old hat. The group is much better off when they're simply doing tracks with original vocals, as they do on "Idea Machine" and "Music For Dogs." The latter works particularly well, coming off like a slightly updated early New Order track.

The group is still at their best when they're rocking out, like on the weird "Total Information Awareness." Mixing vocodored vocals with pummeling drums and thick synths, it feels like it could have arrived straight from Futureworld. Oh yeah, and just for good measure, the group tosses in a slightly psychedelic acoustic track ("Pretty Close To The Edge") and a pretty darn nice synth-pop track ("Remote Control") that's probably one of the best tracks on the entire release. They can't help getting heavy-handed one more time, though, and "Spike In Chatter" mixes an interview from an Al Jazeera broadcast over another fairly standard dark synth backing track. It's by no means a total letdown, as the group once again shows they are willing to try all kinds of new sounds, but the political angle could have been tackled easily enough in a more personal way instead of letting the talking heads (albeit edited ones) speak for them. Hey, that's probably good advice for anyone.

Rating: 6.25