First, a sidebar: The idea here is to highlight albums each week that are album of the year contenders for me this year. I already have a semi-formed idea of which albums are really in the final running to be #1, so this series is more meant to highlight albums that I've loved to a great enough extent that they gave me that type of feeling. Here's all of the pieces so far.
There were two albums that I was quite anxious to listen to this year. This happens from time to time, where you're just so excited for an album that there's a bit of trepidation before you dive in for the first time. One of those albums was The Hotelier's Goodness, and in my AOTY Contender Series entry for that album I will be diving deeper into this idea about too-great expectations, and the other of those albums was Shape Shift With Me.
I didn't write too much about Against Me!'s Transgender Dysphoria Blues when it came out, but that album topped my AOTY list in 2014 (with, incidentally, The Hotelier's Home, Like NoPlace Is There right behind it). I did write a small amount about Blues this year, in the context of reading and writing about AM! frontwoman Laura Jane Grace's new book, TRANNY. The blurb I put in there is the most important thing I can say about Blues -- it was an album that taught me to think about things I'd never thought about before. You can read more into that here, if you'd like.
It's also a straightforwardly killer rock album. Diverse in its tempos, great musicianship, emotional and cathartic storytelling. Getting that and Home in the same year feels, in retrospect, like even more of a blessing than it felt like at the time. But diving into Shape Shift With Me (iTunes / Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube embedded below, vinyl), after its predecessor had such an effect on me, made me get that small anxious feeling when I started my first listen.
As I'll write again in my Hotelier blog, this small anxious feeling can start to cause issues with your evaluation of an album when your first listen doesn't live up to the hype. I don't think I managed to make it all the way through Shape Shift on my first attempt at it -- the odd beginning with "ProVision L-3" and the new production style just didn't sit with me well at first. But the album clicked for me after continued listens, and stands up now as a worth follow-up to Blues, and the must-listen next chapter in Grace's story.
Shape Shift is a more reserved statement than Blues, but that's to be expected as the follow-up to a truly anthemic and ground-breaking album. Grace focuses on telling stories about relationships from her new life, with her new perspective, and they're delivered via a more throwback punk sound than we heard on Blues. This album is a lot fuzzier from a production standpoint and most of it comes from a standpoint of guitar-bass-drums punk-rock. There are some curveballs in the instrumentation but overall the band is content to let a wave of loud fuzz serve as the vessel for Grace's impassioned vocal performance.
My favorite songs from this one are "12:03," "Delicate, Petite & Other Things I'll Never Be," "Haunting, Haunted, Haunts" and "Rebecca" at the moment. I will say that since the record took a while to catch on for me, I haven't given it the kind of full attention that I'd like to before writing something more introspective about its content. It took me a decently long while to get a grip on Blues and I think it will be a similar story with this one, so I probably won't write something truly in-depth about this album until like ... the middle of 2017. In the meantime, I'm more than comfortable recommending it during this, the season of recommendations.
While it isn't as good as Transgender Dysphoria Blues, it still feels like Shape Shift With Me is a type of essential listen; its statement isn't as grand, perhaps, but on the other hand, writing an album and living and loving as a trans person in 2016 is, in itself, a very important statement.
Part 5 of the AOTY Contender Series.