US-Maryland - Luna Kafé - Full Moon 9 - 07/20/97
Surrender To The Night
When I bought last years debut by Trans Am, the self-titled mini- (well,
it's not longplaying) album, it came to me as a thrilling surprise.
Launched by the Chicago-based label Thrill Jockey, and engineered by John
McEntire of Tortoise, the major band of T.J., and in the bag of the
so-called "post-rock", alongside the Rachels, the Sea & Cake, June of 44
plus others. Yes, we're talking all-instrumental tunes. And, regarding Trans
Am, lots of changes in dynamics, besides rhythms en masse.
Trans Am is a trio (Nathan Means/ Sebastian Thomson/ Philip Manley): one
(or sometimes two) bass(es), one guitar, and drums, with additional instruments,
and Casio synthezisers and programmed rhythms all over and in-between. And
with distortion as another key-word. It's been some months since Surrender To
The Night was released, and, well, it's entertaining, but I prefer their first
album. Which had some resemblance with the attacking aggression of the Pixies, my
heroes of the late 80's/early 90's.
Some parts of this album are raw. There's a sticker on the cover saying:
"Warning: there is nothing wrong. all distortions are fully intentional."
And, yes, distortions there are! Making for instance Neil Young's live escapades sound
like....adult-pop. But the album starts off quietly. The opening composition is called
Motr, a perfect take-off; wide-stretched, sweeping, with nicely balanced dynamics
between softness and some rough-and-tumble style. Now and then Trans Am wander the border
of pompousness, but without crossing the line. In tunes like Cologne and Love
Commander I get the feeling of travelling. It's almost like moving to the
"rhythms" of pictures. With Trans Am doing the soundtrack quite spontaneously. Except
there are no pictures. (All gone black again, Håvard? - other editor's note) Only movement, lots of movement in their sound. In Rough
Justice the distortion hits like a sledgehammer. A totale blast of twisted noise, like
if your turntable pick-up cartridge suddenly broke, and still you can sense the core
of the song somewhere inside the whirlpool of the cracked-up sound. Amazing, and everlasting,
because this last track of side 1 (vinyl, get it?) isn't over when it's over! It stops when
you decide to lift up the needle. Otherwise it could - theoretically - be looping
Trans Am might have borrowed some of the atmosphere from the German kraut-rock of the 70's,
of which I shall admit that I'm not that familiar with. But I do sense lots of continental
European atmosphere in the music of Trans Am. It can be a bit exhausting with a whole album being all
instrumental. Sometimes I've therefore tried to imagine how this and that tune could
be with vocals and lyrics added. But yet they're also fascinating as they are. My
ultimate favourite "song" is called Carboforce, which is Trans Am at fast-running speed,
with pulsating bass-lines, Pixies-like drums and guitars, and some quirky, naive melodic parts.
Tough!! I surrender!
Copyright © 1997 Håvard Oppøyen