Back in 2012 when Laura Jane Grace came out as transgender, it was still a pretty new concept to the masses of America. There was not much around that challenged the American way of thinking about the subject of being transgender. Then, just two years later, Grace and her band Against Me! would deliver an album that deals with the issues of the community and hardships individuals go through. “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” was released to a lot of critical and commercial success. Now, only two years later, we have the highly anticipated follow up album “Shape Shift with Me.”
The Florida-based punk band Against Me! formed back in 1997 and quickly rose to fame after independently releasing three studio albums and a handful of EPs. The release of “New Wave” cemented the band as one of the powerhouse bands in the scene. Against Me! has also been at the forefront of social and political activism, making appearances in both Rock the Vote and Rock Against Bush. The band has also had a huge cast of rotating members with Grace being the only founding member left.
“Shape Shift with Me” is a 12 track record that clocks out around 39 minutes long. Front to back, this record is structured in a much more narrative manner. While there is not a driving story, there is a very natural beginning, middle and end to this record. For punk rock, this is something you do not see very often. The genre is about high energy, in your face music all the time. While this record has some of that, it also has some slower tracks, making this record a lot more reminiscent of some of the band’s earlier works but more along the lines of “New Wave.” It is a very enjoyable record for any punk fan to listen to.
Musically, there is not anything really different here. The main thing that this records features is new members on bass and drums. With Inge Johansson on bass and Atom Willard on drums, there seems to be a new focus on rhythm. While we it is hard to isolate the bass, the drums are a huge factor on almost every single track. That may be due to Willard’s long standing 26-year long career playing for many notable acts. You can hear the new revival in tracks like the lead “ProVison L-3″ and “Dead Rats.”
If it is more of that classic Against Me! feeling that you’re after, you do not have to look far on this record. Tracks like “Crash,” “333” and “Suicide Bomber” provide that high energy, loud sound that the band was once known for.
Lyrically, Against Me! is not trying to make something new here. Instead, they are building off of what they started with “Transgender Dysphoria Blues.” If the 2014 album was about Grace coming out as a transgender, then “Shape Shift with Me” is about her letting go of the past and dealing with her new relationships, which could not be more apparent in tracks like “Boyfriend” and “Delicate, Petite, and Other Things I’ll Never Be.” This is not to say there is no political awareness in the songs. There is plenty of that here, even if it is not the main focus of the record. Just listen to “ProVison L-3” and “12:03” if that is what you are really after. As a whole though we are seeing Grace as a songwriter in a much more comfortable place than she has ever been, writing both memorable and very real songs that provide a community with a much more mainstream sound to relate to.
Final Score: 4/5
While “Shape Shift with Me” is not nearly as ground breaking as its predecessor, it had a very difficult job of following up some of the band’s best work to date. While it manages to stand on its own two feet by comparison, this is one of those records where if you give any other band the same subject matter, it would just be absolutely terrible. The mix of both political and personal is something only skilled musicians like Against Me! can really deliver.