For Fans Of
For the most part, I don’t care about the context an album was written in. I am a firm believer that art should stand on its own merits, and to that end, no amount of contextual relevance can transform a shitty album into a sudden masterpiece. But, as sure as I am human, I am hypocritical. I also firmly believe that, as we don’t exist in a vacuum, the context an album is written in can absolutely enhance the experience. I am, of course, self-aware in this, but it definitely makes for some confusing dualities in how I consume music, and by extension, how I critique it.
For instance, a concept will never make me like an album by default, but it certainly can enhance my enjoyment once I’ve decided I do enjoy it. This is quite relevant to Against Me! in general, as there is almost no escaping the significance of Laura Jane Grace’s place within the realm of progressive ideology, and gender politics in particular. Indeed, this very album is framed as her version of albums like ‘Exile on Main St.‘ by The Rolling Stones; a transperson’s first person account of the realities of dating, relationships, and sex.
Musically, Against Me! tread a delicate balance between poppy, catchy melodies, and a nastier, more genuinely punk rock edge. There is no small amount of grit in amongst the polished veneer, which allows them to co-habit both the pop-punk and more traditional, even hardcore punk scenes. They are most certainly political, and non-conforming enough to truly espouse the punk genre, so if that’s your rag, you will definitely find plenty to like about ‘Shape Shift With Me‘.
As someone who was largely unfamiliar with the band prior to reviewing this album, I must stress that I was very pleasantly surprised by how good Grace’s voice is, considering AM! are a punk band. I’m painfully well acquainted with your Lagwagons, your NOFXs, and the like, and assumed that with the cred that AM! carried, they would likely have that same not-quite-in-tune-but-somehow-suits-the-music vibe. Not so. Grace is much more in the vein of Rise Against’s Tim McIlrath, and she has an undeniable quality about her delivery, both in just pure vocal terms and in her phrasing. She is inherently interesting to listen to, mainly due to her mastery of cadence, and dynamics. In fact, there is precious little to fault in any of the musical elements, truth be told.
Lyrically, Grace has absolutely smashed this out of the park. It is always a touchy area, the lyrics, but I can confidently state that she has related her personal experiences in an engaging, honest manner, whilst still maintaining those ‘golden’ moments where the lyrics really hit you in the chest. “Shallow graves for old, dead rats. I like the dark clouds the best”, “All the devils that you don’t know, can all come along for the ride”, are but a few of the countless examples to be found within, each and every line dripping with an authenticity that is a real hallmark of the genre.
It’s quite difficult to find flaws within this album, but I would say that the opening track is probably not quite ideal, in that it is a pretty throwaway kind of tune. Named ‘ProVision L-3‘, I’m assuming that it alludes to some law or whatever, but the actual song is pretty bare and forgettable. I get why it’s there, but that doesn’t entirely justify its existence, either. ‘Norse Truth‘ is a very interesting track that I feel may polarise many. It is blunt and unforgiving, but it isn’t exactly a track that I would listen to in isolation, although the lyrics are most certainly a particular highlight, perhaps even the strongest set of lyrics on the entire album. ‘Rebecca‘ is another track that I wouldn’t listen to by itself, but then, it is stylistically happy, and as I’m a miserable, cynical arsehole, I tend to gravitate towards less green pastures just as a general rule.
All in all, this album is pretty fantastic. It definitely justifies itself, with or without the conceptual element. ‘333’, ‘Delicate, Petite, and Other Things I’ll Never Be’, and ‘Haunting, Haunted, Haunts’ are the standouts for mine, with ‘333’ in particular being an absolute, raging banger of a track. I couldn’t get that brilliant chorus out of my head for days after listening, and that is usually a sign of a damn good hook. ‘Shape Shift With Me’ is a solid album and is worth many repeated listens.
- ProVision L-3
- Delicate, Petite and Other Things I’ll Never Be
- Haunting, Haunted, Haunts
- Dead Rats
- Norse Truth
- Suicide Bomber
- All This and More
‘Shape Shift With Me’ is out now.