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Kraftwerk On Krack

Trans Am
(Thrill Jockey)

I've heard several different Trans Am albums, but for some reason they've never really stuck on me as very cohesive or solid releases. On every disc I listened to, though, there were moments of greatness, so I didn't rule the group out in my head in hopes that they'd put it all together and come out with a whopper at some point.

That point is finally here with their new disc. Whereas most of their past releases have felt kind of bi-polar in styles, Futureworld is the disc that manages to blend their love of guitar rock anthems with their touch of kitsch. Really, I was hooked on this disc the first time I heard it, and there's really no reason not to be. From the uber-glossy Tron-like album cover art to the blistering tracks and vocodered lyrics, the group has put together a hugely solid release, sounding a little like Kraftwerk might have if they dropped the cheesy synths in favor of crunchy guitars and primal drumming. There are a couple lighter touches on the disc, but for the most part they act as soft interludes until things get ramped up again.

The disc opens with the instrumental "1999," a back alley, saxophone-drenched number that feels like it could have easily enough come off the soundtrack to Blade Runner. The group comes on harder with the second track "Television Eyes" and finally gives a nice dose of the analogue synths coupled with bass and breakneck drumming. Oh yeah, the vocodered lyrics are there as well, but really I couldn't even imagine the track having things straight-up after hearing it. The track builds and builds until a final crank-down that will leave you begging for more.

More is what you get with the very next album-titled track. Again, the group cranks things up with a warbling analogue and driving drums and mechanical vocals. Given the track title of "Futureworld," everything seems to work even better than the previous track. After a few mellow verses and chorus bursts, the track drops off into a slowed-down version of the beginning of the track, but doesn't let off the sound reigns at all. Just in case you thought they'd let up, the group barrels down the track once more with "City In Flames," a track that sounds something Man or Astroman at their very hardest (which is a very good thing). After a slower (but still thundering) "Am Rhein," the group takes a lighter approach on "Cocaine Computer" and "Runners Standing Still." The live drumming sound is replaced by a softer sounding drum machine, but the analogues are still in full effect giving off their warm glow.

After the noisy "Futureworld II" and the somewhat repetitive "Positron," the group closes out the disc with the song "Sad and Young." Tossing aside all remnants of the past tracks (except for a slight, swirling keyboard drone in the background), the song almost feels out of place on the disc with it's slow, post-rock progression. The longer instrumental track is kind of a soothing earth ground after the elaborate effects and noises of the rest of the disc, even though it builds to near breaking point by the end. Perhaps it's a reminder that we're all not machines yet, but either way, it works.

Overall, the disc is an excellent release for the group. As mentioned before, the album reminds me of Kraftwerk in more ways that one (including the mechanical vocals and one song sung in German), except that it knows how to kick out the jams when needed. If you're in the mood for some rock n roll that doesn't stick to the rules or if you've heard the group before, it's a must-have.

Rating: 8