A collection of spiteful, heartbroken love songs, Against Me! are back with their seventh studio album, ‘Shape Shift With Me’. After the seminal ‘Transgender Dysphoria Blues’ was released back in 2014, this is the band’s second record since the gender transition made by lead singer & guitarist Laura Jane Grace, and whilst the band’s last release dealt with the difficulties of living a life that wasn’t your own, ‘Shape Shift With Me’ is a record devoted to the fallout of such a life-changing decision, and the problems that accompany changes of perception in every-day relationships, as well as the love and heartbreak that come with it.
From a musical stand-point, it would appear upon first listen that ‘Shape Shift With Me’ is largely business as usual, albeit slightly cleaner, and with a more fixed tempo. However, after having lived with the album for a short amount of time, the record yields a sound a little more subdued than that of previous releases, a change that proves both welcome and, admittedly, slightly disappointing. Make no mistake, the record has it’s fair share of true stand out moments in the confrontational ‘Norse Truth’, self-deprecating lead single ‘333’ and the groovy ‘Dead Rats’, but the proceedings lack a certain bite found throughout the bands earlier material, even on more mainstream releases like ‘New Wave’ and ‘White Crosses’.
However, what must be remembered, is that this is still Against Me!, and Laura hasn’t suddenly forgotten how to write some of the catchiest punk rock of the year, even in a rare moment of slight mediocrity. The raw, venomous lyrics of the aforementioned ‘Norse Truth’ hit like a switchblade, and the band’s minimalist approach on the record allow her to truly flow atop a more varied set of instrumentals. Whereas more conventional, stuck-in-your-head-for-weeks tracks like ‘Boyfriend’ scratch that Against Me! itch just right, ‘All This And More’ is an experiment working beautifully in the bands favour with a song featuring a vocal hook that both invents and improves on previous efforts, all to a stomping, crunching set of instrumentation.
Riffs & arrangements here are varied, and whilst obvious props must be given to Grace’s vocal performance, much of the record’s quirks and best turns come from newly appointed stickman Atom Willard, who makes exciting use of whatever space and lines he’s given, whether it be a bombastic stop, or a classic punk rock direction on songs like ‘Haunting, Haunted, Haunts’. An unexpected stand out performance, but an incredibly welcome one nonetheless.
In ‘Shape Shift With Me’, Against Me! have delivered another solid record, and while clean production and a less varied pace mar the album to a certain extent, the band are still more than capable of churning out twelve great punk rock tracks you’re sure to lose your mind to in a live environment.