‘Shape Shift With Me’ marks Against Me!‘s seventh full-length record a year shy of their 20 year anniversary, and comes off the back of a turbulent couple of years for vocalist and founding member, Laura Jane Grace.
After coming out as a transgender woman in 2012 (she was formerly known as Thomas James Gabel), Grace went through a seemingly unthinkable divorce to wife Heather Hannoura in 2014. With drummer Jay Weinberg and bassist Andrew Seward signalling their intention to leave the band at this time and with Grace going through a breakdown around the release of their previous record, 2014’s ‘Transgender Dysphoria Blues’, this only added to the immeasurable strain of keeping the band progressing on a consistent plane.
While ‘Transgender Dysphoria Blues’ was a concept record about a transgender prostitute, ‘Shape Shift With Me’ tells several stories of love, anguish, and relationship breakdowns, no doubt in some sort of reaction to Grace‘s aforementioned divorce. As a result of this, the underlying sound of the album isn’t quite as punk-filled and joyous as 2010’s ‘White Crosses’, which is generally seen as the band’s high point, although there’s still plenty here to get your teeth into.
‘Boyfriend’ demonstrates the first real hit of anger on the record, and you get the feeling that there’s a strong message being portrayed about being treated unfairly, with Grace showing some real spite in her lyrical delivery, but paired back slightly with a wonderfully retro-sounding chorus. ‘Rebecca’ accelerates the pace somewhat, and shows off some uplifting guitar fretwork while still retaining some of that vocal abruptness with real punk attitude.
As a record of emotional intensity would undoubtedly show, there’s some musical restraint acquired from simple production on tracks ‘Crash’ and ‘Dead Rats’. They just seem to feel a little empty with slow-paced, shallow rhythm sections labouring through the former track, while the latter displays a simple bass guitar riff coupled with a simple catchy chorus against a darker background of moody atmosphere. These songs aren’t particularly memorable, but perhaps needed to balance out some of the more anguished moments elsewhere on the record.
A couple of notable highlights on the record include ’12:03′ with a driving, anthemic chorus and a subtle Irish tone about it, and ‘Norse Truth’ which would appear to be a harsh tirade with random patches of vulgar, but highly literate shouting from Grace and a hauntingly dark atmosphere. The lyrics “Just because I can intellectualise it / Doesn’t mean I can feel it in my chest” demonstrates just how deeply this record is delivered like a sucker punch to the gut.
While perhaps not as strong as their previous two records, ‘Shape Shift With Me’ signals the culmination of a hugely transitional era for both Grace and the band, and definitely shows some impressive signs of what Against Me! may have to offer in future years.
Written by Neil Criddle (@DJCriddz)