Trans Am – Surrender To the Night

3 out of 5

Label: Thrill Jockey

Produced by: John McEntire

Much of Trans Am’s sophomore album seems summarizable both by considering it via that term – a ‘sophomoric’ album – and listening to third track ‘Illegalize It,’ which filters the group’s electro instrumental krautrock shtick through… dub. Which is showy, and cute, and as soon as the track begins, rather predictable.

Self-aware bravado goes hand-in-hand with much of this era of post-rock, of course, but TA were one of the more notable bands at the time to lean into it, while being associated with more “serious” acts like Tortoise via the presence of John McEntire, once again producing here. McEntire’s grounding may be what puts things at odds, though, as you can sense the group wanting to break out the kitsch or just rocking out a bit more, leading to some bolder, more playful tracks like the bizarre, static-soaked Rough Justice, or the epic Carboforce, both of which show how skillfully the band can zip in and out of programmed and live sounds, but elsewhere things burble along with an offhand vibe, floating from track to track without consequence. ‘Illegalize It’ morphs into ‘Love Commander;’ the duo of ‘Night Dreaming’ and ‘Night Dancing’ fade into one another. This isn’t seamless sequencing, exactly, rather feeling like Trans Am trying to find definition for themselves between their own style and McEntire’s input, and the material coming out mostly wishy-washy as a result. At the same time, the dreamy flow of music is extremely easy to listen to, and when you get to those highlights, it’s easy to remember that Trans Am can be a group to very much get excited about.