Punk rock big guns Against Me! come roaring up toward the end of 2016 with their latest and seventh studio album – Shape Shift With Me. The American rock swayers have unleashed a bountiful surplus of pumping bully punk-rock tipped with a uniqueness and controlling musical mastery. The album is the band’s first record to feature more than 10 tracks – consequently all being written by lead singer Laura Jane Grace with the implemental helpings of fellow band members James Bowman, Inge Johansson and Atom Willard.
Themes of deep love and complex relationship woes loosen from underneath Grace’s thoughtful and existential songwriting. Sentimentality and remorse stick out from beneath the shadow of thumping instrumental weavings. The uniqueness in delivery and vocal expression perhaps best displays the cohesiveness of modulated and whole musical junctions. This record does well in defining the current and more refined sound of Against Me!’s varying textures. Tapping into clear sensory details, the firmness spills from tracks like Crash – finding the rough rhythm guitar realisations that seem to sit tight next to the blending drum programs. Grace’s distinguished vocals offer a thick juxtaposition that sits beneath the rigid and lively rock ensemble purposes. The short tracks shouldn’t come as any surprise being that of a holistic punk nature, though the record also maintains an evenhanded ‘song-like’ formation instead of the regular 2-minute thrashing sharp visits as displayed by most punk bands. There’s songwriting here, in the most pro-active and tangible behaviour. Delicate, Petite & Other Things I’ll Never Be could be mistaken for an early unreleased Pixies track, though when the hook reels in, Grace’s raging and fruitful vocal texture scream an individual protuberance around a faint guitar echo and analogue drum consanguinity. These urges empty into the flow of the following track; 333. Adding to the fountaining dynamism, hearty bass drum bits give an increased ballast to the esoteric guitar shouts accompanied well again by Grace’s confident aura. It’s not all typical contemporary punk music, however, with tracks like Dead Rats employing the use of a heavier and more quantized sound – perhaps more expected from a Queens Of The Stone Age or Desert Sessions spice. Then there’s the cocktail of punk-rock standings dusted with spoken word fragments in Norse Truth – where the lyric that became the record’s title hides behind the opaque rhythmic pictures, crafted snare journeys and strained guitar units. Raunchy and explicit lyricism colour most of the track, furnishing space for the more revealing and personal moments – “I wanted you to be more real than all the others / Wanted all of us to be more real than all of the rest” Grace bellows in the hook line.
Recalling the graphic importances of this record, it’s easier to understand why Against Me! is such a prolific and strong voice in punk music today. Demonstrating power and blinding skill within the performance attributes – the band lunges forth with a heaving energy and considerable musical encouragement. Justifiably, there’s something bright and special about the songwriting and enfolding ability that the band display throughout Shape Shift With Me. This record feels like Against Me!’s most considered material to date – an expanded collection of recordings that are powerful as they are intimate, but also heavily motivated and loudly permanent.