foolproof plan for avoiding the clichés of rock lyrics is to play rock without
lyrics. It’s worked for Trans Am for 20 years — more or less. But keeping
things fresh is a challenge even if you avoid silly love songs. While the
D.C.-rooted trio’s new Thing is a
solid set of cosmic funk/arena rock, it doesn’t add a lot to the band’s legacy.
there are lyrics on this album — the group’s ninth — but only on a few
tracks, and heavily distorted with vocoder. More typical is the
spacey-yet-earthy vibe of “Space Dock,” an instrumental that could
prove useful if Bootsy Collins ever makes a sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Midtempo keyboards chatter in the foreground,
while slo-mo faux-orchestral flourishes float behind them.
heavy percussion is added to this formula, as in the almost-rollicking
“Black Matter,” Trans Am sounds something like its most heralded
descendant, Battles. The band pushes the beat even further with “Heaven’s
Gate,” a six-minute acid-blues blitz that sets a Ginger-Baker-style drum
workout atop sci-fi synths and squealing (but not exactly Claptonesque) guitar.
The piece is unusually free-form for the band, which is more persuasive when it
doesn’t get all human on us. It’s chugging robo-funk of tracks like “Arcadia” that shows
Trans Am at peak man-machine efficiency.
Standout Tracks: “Black