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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Against Me! album a musical, emotional triumph

Photo+courtesy+of+Ryan+Russell.
Ryan Russell
Photo courtesy of Ryan Russell.

Photo courtesy of Ryan Russell.
Against Me! members Left to Right Inge Johansson, James Bowman, Laura Jane Grace, Atom Willard. Photo courtesy of Ryan Russell.

It’s been more than three years since the last album from post-punk rock band Against Me!, but with the release of “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” it’s clear a lot has changed.
Lead singer Laura Jane Grace came out as a transgender woman in 2012 after struggling with gender dysphoria for most of her life. To say that “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” is Grace’s most personal work is not only an understatement but also an under-acknowledgement of what has been achieved with this album.
It’s been said before that good artists can communicate their personal frustration, but great ones can make them universal. That’s what Grace has achieved here. The album wraps itself in a blanket of personal anxiety, loss of identity and boiling frustration — all culminating in a heartfelt cry for acceptance and understanding.
Lyrically, the album rides a wave of frustration, but holds onto its riot-inducing rhythms. Only Against Me! could make a song called “F—MYLIFE666” sound as upbeat as it does.
Songs such as “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” and “True Trans Soul Rebel” root themselves in existential cries of help because of the various stigmas associated with being transgender. “Drinking with the Jocks” rides a guitar-riff of coke-induced paranoia about hiding your identity from your peers. “Unconditional Love” is Grace’s acknowledgement to her wife and bandmates.
The album’s 30-odd minute runtime is turned all the way up to a nervous breakdown, only taking a moment to breathe on the song “Two Coffins.” Rather than the uncertainty and paranoia Grace displayed toward those close to her on “Unconditional Love,” this song is a romantic thank you to her wife for “the way that you smile at me.” It’s a calming moment in this storm of an album.
The album caps itself off with “Black Me Out,” which is one large emotional release. Grace seems to let go of all her frustration, anger and doubt in favor of simply getting rid of the toxic relationships that put those emotions in her in the first place. On its own it succeeds, but backed by the proceeding spiral of emotions, it might be the rock anthem of the year. It’s only January, I know, but I envision myself blasting this all year. While the entire album needs to be played on a big speaker, “Black Me Out” deserves to be turned all the way up.
There were times in the past few years of Against Me! that it seemed this album would never be released. Now that it has, it stands as the group’s best and most mature work, lyrically, emotionally and sonically. The subject matter and spectrum of emotion it covers are a triumphant achievement. Grace has created a landmark album not just for the band, but for the genre of rock itself.
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