Shape Shifting with Against Me!
Arts & Entertainment Editor
For punk music, there’s always been a fine line between success and selling out. Against Me! has managed to walk that line masterfully. With music that is full of raw guitar riffs as well as slowed down, reflective ballads, the band has maintained a loyal fan base throughout their 14-year career.
In 2012, front man Thomas Gable shocked fans when he came out as transgender woman. Gable subsequently changed his name to Laura Jane Grace and began undergoing hormone therapy. Though some doubted whether the band would withstand the transition, Grace assured fans that Against Me! would continue to make music (though two members did resign). On Sept. 16, Against Me! released their seventh studio album, “Shape Shift with Me,” a firestorm of pent up emotion.
Opening with a rush, “ProVision L-3” is an angst-filled track we’ve come to expect from Against Me! Grace sings, “Culture of suspicion / For national security / Consent or coercion / The alpha, the omega / I know it’s an illusion but I can’t see through it.” The lyrics are few but draw on current issues that our society faces – a conversation punk bands have never shied away from.
Things get more personal on the next track with Grace presumably touching on her 2014 divorce. She shouts, “Always tethered like a toy to your finger / You walk me like a dog and I’m sick of rolling over” and “Whatever direction takes me away from you / That’s the direction I want to head in.” Despite the painful lyrics, the music itself is upbeat and danceable.
The melodic drumbeat of “Boyfriend” grabs you in, and soon you’re drifting through the emotions of a breakup. The repetition of lyrics allows you to let the words sink in: “I don’t want to hang around the graveyard waiting for something dead to come back.”
Grace continues to bang out the frustrations of short-lived, unsubstantial relationships, singing “It’s not love, it’s just adornment / Bathroom wall graffiti / A cliché sprayed on a T-shirt, fortune cookie poetry.”
The album continues to leave a mark with “Delicate, Petite & Other Things I’ll Never Be.” “Dead Rats” contains dark, creepy lyrics, but strangely balances somewhere between angry and sexy with humming guitar riffs. Things pick up with “Norse Truth.” Grace shouts, “Just forget I was here / Cut me out of your heart / Your body’s not a stranger to me / How can I look you in the eyes when I have known you so very intimately?” The words could be ripped right from a journal and show there’s no holding back when it comes to Grace’s songwriting.
Coming to a close with “All This (And More),” the upbeat tune contrasts with Grace’s words: “I somehow ended up missing your kind of crazy more than the rest / All this and more to forget.” Though haunted by regrets, she is moving on.
In typical Against Me! fashion, the songs on “Shape Shift With Me” resonate like anthems. Listening, it’s easy to visualize yourself watching the band perform live in a dark, damp club pushed up against sweaty people banging their heads, a beer in hand. The album takes the listener through a narrative of relationships from the perspective of Grace’s transition.
Punk music has always been about going against the grain and calling out the truth, no matter how gritty or unappealing it may be to the masses. Laura Jane Grace’s public transformation is one of the most punk-rock moves listeners have ever seen, and easily makes “Shape Shift With Me” worth a listen.