- Against Me!
- Transgender Dysphoria Blues
- Release year:
For the better part of my teen years, I lurked Punknews.org and the Plan-It-X message boards from a basement in suburban Ontario. Outside, kids frothed over trendy Razers, adults carried loyalty cards to multi-billion dollar petrol companies, strip malls confused borders between homogenous communities, and we all screamed for ice cream. Back on the web, I was sinking my teeth into everything I could about an anarchist folk-punk movement as defined by the music of Against Me!, Defiance Ohio, Mischief Brew, and many others. Solace was taken in their 21st century anarcho-punk idealism, as it had an insatiable appeal to those of us growing up in a highly-organized environment made possible by globalization, consumption, and the socio-political demands of a burgeoning middle class.
As its name suggests, Against Me's Reinventing Axl Rose begged to restore punk ethic through emphasis of issues other than haircuts, studs, and theatrics. The community it fostered was drawn together through political and emotional solidarity. I still remember seeing local teens screaming the lyrics to 'Baby, I'm an Anarchist' around some punk's guitar on Canada Day, and the folk-punk chants between sets at unrelated local shows. Like-minded individuals all knew the words to the album, so referencing it became a secret handshake of this subculture that we all discovered on the internet. And this lasted throughout Against Me's subsequent confused years on Fat Wreck Chords, ironically one of the most homogenized punk labels in business.
Though such idealism was infectious and welcoming, it was eventually soured by a discord with one's own gentrification. You discover that no suburban teens are really courageous enough to quit their fast food jobs, or passionate enough to protest the local presence of mega-corporations. Against Me! soon vomits a live album to fulfill a contractual obligation with Fat Wreck Chords only to move onto Sire, a division or Warner. Fans tuck in their shirts whilst becoming careful to no longer mention 'folk-punk' or 'Against Me!', especially in the same clause. This made New Wave, the band's major label debut, remarkably difficult to digest. Follow-up White Crosses was even harder to swallow as it explicitly damned the band's political roots. Soon, fronting member Tom Gabel came out as a transgendered person, and announced a name change to Laura Jane Grace. This came as little surprise to those familiar with the catalog, but the story received big-time press for its click-power and feel-good controversy points. She announced Transgender Dysphoria Blues, and a year and half later it finally has an independent release.
After a decade of sequential drama, Transgender Dysphoria Blues presents itself as a surprisingly light listen, featuring catchy songs with sunny lyrics such as 'You've got no cunt in your strut' and 'Does God bless your transsexual heart?'. Surprisingly, the instrumentals take on east-coast pop-punk cues with mid-tempo anthems and a spotlight on dense rhythm guitars. While this is a far-cry from what I would have predicted of the record's sound, its rosy instrumental optimism is amusing in the context of unfiltered lyrics about gender identity and sickness. This marriage of implication and presentation sums into a character that is confident, yet consciously deranged. Album closer 'Black Me Out' pulls back the veiled torture of earlier tracks with an overwhelming sense of redemption. As Transgender Dysphoria Blues rolls over its snappy 28 minute runtime, it's hard to shake the imagery of fading to black and rolling credits for Laura Jane Grace and Against Me! as a whole. Its even harder to imagine what a sequel could be like. Over the course of their career, the band has constructed and deconstructed multiple personality cults for themselves, and its incredibly settling to finally witness a time where the music is so raucously at peace with its identity.