“Transgender Dysphoria Blues” Xtra Mile Recordings
By Rich Cocksedge
For well over a decade Against Me! has been a band that has generally been revered by many music fans, especially those of a DIY punk persuasion (although the band did take some flak some years back for a number of decisions it made). Initially I was bemused by the adoration they band garnered from its audience – yes, there were some great songs and when I saw them live in 2006 they certainly managed to thrill me, but I still felt I was missing out on something. That impression wasn’t helped by the last couple of albums the band released which barely registered in my little world. That is until now. Much has changed in recent years and nothingmore so than Laura Jane Grace publically acknowledging her transsexuality in 2012. I think it would be wrong to dismiss the impact on the band and this album that these last few years of Grace’s life have had, and it would appear that it seems positive in every respect.
Much of Transgender Dysphoria Blues comes from the battles that Grace has faced over the years, both internally and externally, and one can only wonder at what she has gone through, and continues to go through, as she continues to emerge from the cocoon she has been trapped in for most of her life, gradually changing into a striking butterfly, finally able to live life as she feels the need to. Both of the opening tracks deal with the issues faced head on, and it appears that there is a lot of material that must be stored up and bursting to come forth from Grace, and in some ways it has to be cathartic to finally deliver her views in a way that might gain more understanding that just by making a statement via some news or social media.
I have to say that I’ve not heard lyrics so personal and thought provoking as these in many a year and being able to open his heart and mind to address her real self seems to have helped the band to really take a step up in terms of its all-round performance. For me the lines that hit home the most are from the opening track “Talking Transgender Dysphoria Blues” and they give a small insight into what life for Laura Jane Grace must be like:
‘You want them to notice,
The ragged ends of your summer dress.
You want them to see you
Like they see every other girl.
They just see a faggot.
They’ll hold their breath not to catch the sick.’
Despite the many leaps the world has made in terms of race, sexuality and anything that marks a person out as ‘different’, it’s a damn shame that anyone is still faced with blind ignorance. One must hope that having someone like Grace going public about her own situation will allow others to not sit on their hands, regardless of whatever their ‘real’ self would be like.
In addition to the more obvious basis for Grace’s lyrics, there are also two songs addressing death in some way: the first being “Dead Friend” which deals with the death of a close friend of Grace and the second is the haunting “Two Coffins”.
It’s not all about Laura Jane Grace though. Against Me! is a tight band that works hard to deliver the goods in the best way it can and for me this is the band’s most accomplished release for some time. With Grace’s long time fellow band member James Bowman firmly at her side, the pair are joined by a rhythm section consisting of Atom Willard (Rocket From The Crypt) on drums and Inge Johansson on bass, allowing the construction of an album that offers up a variety of tracks all of which have been sequenced in a way that the record flows with ease from beginning to end. Willard and Johansson are majestic on the opening track which has an almost constant cadence set by powerfully by the pair, adding to the more front and centre work from Grace and Bowman.
There are a couple of thunderous songs in “Drinking With The Jocks” and “Osama Bin Laden As The Crucified Christ” as well as “FUCKMYLIFE666”, a track that sounds like it could only be by Against Me!, and this trio provides a strong mid-point to the album.
The album closes with “Black Me Out”, a song that to me is one of liberation in that it’s seeking to leave behind all of the times where we have felt compelled to act in what might be an unnatural way to how we are or consider ourselves to be due to pressure that might be placed on us to do so. It’s a hell of song to bring Transgender Dysphoria Blues to a conclusion.
With Grace’s voice not being affected by the hormone treated she is undergoing, for all intents and purposes there are no real changes to the sound of Against Me!, however, what cannot be overlooked is the impact made by the changes that Grace has now publically gone through and which form the backbone of what this album seems to be about. It might be early to say that this is a contender for album of the year but my favourite album of 2013 came out in early January of that year so all things are possible.