There are three ways of interpreting Volume X, the title of the new album by Trans Am. The first is obvious – it is the band’s tenth studio release, comprised of ten songs that display ten unique sides of Phil Manley, Nathan Means, and Sebastian Thomson. You can also imagine a volume knob being cranked all the way up, the amplification level for an ideal Trans Am listening session. But it can also be read as a representation of the band’s remarkable ability to express, and even embody, unknown capacities, adopting bold stylistic and aesthetic shifts as a defining tenet of their quarter-century long career. Trans Am refuse to rely on their legacy as innovators, opting instead to continue to break down established modes of songwriting, even if they established those modes themselves. Volume X continues in this gloriously contrarian tradition, presenting fans with strange and familiar sounds in new contexts, from kosmische rock to futuristic speed metal to robo-balladry to variants on classic rock that are so warped as to be rendered completely unrecognizable.
“Anthropocene” opens the album with 30 seconds of serene synthesizer ambience before obliterating the stillness with a massive, fuzzy riff anchored by Thomson’s relentless, pounding groove, recorded live in the studio for maximum impact. Volume X is full of these types of disarming moments. Halfway through the sweeping, Kraftwerkian “Night Shift” the song’s syncopated shuffle suddenly becomes a throbbing motorik pulse as two drum takes are overlaid. “Backlash” creeps in with a massive synthesized low-end drone before breaking into a Kill ‘Em All inspired thrash riff that is one of the most aggressive passages the band has laid to tape. And the band saves their most poignant melody for the stripped down slow jam “I’ll Never,” with a vocoded Nathan Means intoning, “Its true, I’ll never get over you.”
Volume X was recorded in spurts over three years, mostly at LCR Studios in San Francisco, where Phil Manley has recorded many other bands as a professional engineer. He also plays in Life Coach with Jon Theodore of Queens of the Stone Age, and Thomson spends his time away from Trans Am playing drums for Baroness. The band is continues to live in separate cities, although all three have settled within the continental US for now. Trans Am will be playing shows throughout North America in support of Volume X.