Trans Am – Red Line

4 out of 5

Label: Thrill Jockey

Produced by: Trans Am (recorded by)

With the way Trans Am’s Red Line kicks off with the rush of some pumped-up krautrock – I Want It All, Polizei – it can be a bit of a puzzle to parse where the band goes from there. And maybe to band members Nathan Means, Philip Manley, and Sebastian Thomson as well, as the album goes off on a bit of sprawling noise and ambience, and then cycles through some sound-snippet type experiments, before getting back onto its feet with the appropriately named I’m Coming Down, setting up a more paced, moody, and masterful back half of the album. This midsection is always interesting, but it’s very open-ended, and seems to burble from confidence (the murky groove of Village in Bubbles) to formlessness (For Now and Forever), as though all focus was expended up front and then group needed some time to find it again.

But once found, it’s epic: the slow burn explosion of The Dark Gift; the heavy, shoegaze stomp of Slow Response; Ian Svenious adding his jitters to Ragged Agenda. And these are also not the relative kitsch of those krautrock openers, but rather more emotive, layered tracks – more post-rock, less party rock.

Which, of course, opens things up to consider sequencing: once you have a feel for the album’s structure, its layout feels very purposeful, with the group rather succinctly breaking away from a clear cut and accessible style into one that embraces and encourages experimentation. The syncing between the band’s organic and electronic sides is also incredibly strong: even when a track is full-on electro or ambience, you feel actual people at work, trying to bring something to life – maybe with a smile, maybe with a glower, but always quite serious about it.

This holds true even when first navigating the sometimes curious flow of the disc: you’re engaged, you want to be part of it, even as it maybe dodges some of your expectations.