By: Eric G.
Each record by Trans Am over the past five years has been a progression until Red Line. With twenty-one songs of self-referential indulgence, the band barely even steps outside of the parameters of its previous output on its fifth album. This is disappointing because Trans Am seemed to be beating bands to the punch, combining math rock, post rock, and Kraftwerk in a tight-fisted and showy package on albums like Surrender To The Night and Future World. The well has evidently run dry as Red Line merely rehashes each element of Trans Am's musical personality to date and fails to build upon any of it.
Red Line literally picks up right where Future World left off. After one of many throwaway instrumental fillers the band kicks into "I Want It All"- a tight, mechanical consolidation of the first few tracks off Future World, which fails to summon the excitement or energy of its deliberate models. I've never quite understood why a band so adept at its instruments would try so hard to sound like a programmed machine, but its methodical execution comes off stale and lifeless this time around. And the musical interludes are just plain boring. They're go-nowhere jams that do nothing but clutter up the few actual songs in between so that the record never has a chance to build any momentum.
At first I thought the problem was just that Red Line was an overload of music, so I put the record away for a while. Time away did nothing but increase my dread to sit through it again. The vinyl felt heavier every time I had to flip sides. Cutting out all those annoying instrumental snippets would have saved me at least one whole trip. One of the few signs of life, though, is "Play In The Summer." The band's hurried machinelike thrash incorporates some 70's riffs and discernable vocals (even without vocoders). My ears perked up, and I was even able to hold my eyes open. On "I'm Coming Down" the band again gives semi-naked vocals a shot, but the boring fuzz guitar riff ends up sounding like second rate Jesus And Mary Chain.
"The Dark Gift" is the closest Trans Am comes to breaking new ground for itself. Another 70's style riff- this time by an acoustic guitar- opens the song and slowly builds into… a Don Caballero song? The showy fretboard fingering collides with a beautiful space-age keyboard line and a bass sound that you can feel in your chest. It is the sole highlight of the album. "Lunar Landing" represents much of what is wrong with Red Line. Repetitive synthetic clicks, light syncopation, and the slightest hint of a keyboard melody off in the distance do not an entertaining song make. The band has experimented with electronics in the past and to much greater effect (see Surrender To The Night).
"Slow Response" is a lethargic, vocoder-driven duet. Again 1970's-style heavy rock rears its ugly head. I kept waiting for some kind of explosion or climax but none came. It just kept chugging along with the occasional start/stop riff and fill. The fade out squealing guitar solo didn't help matters either. "Getting Very Nervous" started off promising, finally letting loose with some rock and building into a cacophonous crescendo, but even that didn't raise the bar creatively. Next time around I hope the band either hires an editor or tries something completely different because this type of gratuitous rehashing will only fool people for so long.