#3 – AGAINST ME! – TRUE TRANS [spotify]
(feat. track – “FuckMyLife666″ [spotify])
So, that aforementioned shortest release on this year’s Top Ten Twelve? True Trans is a digital single / 7”, only two songs long, but they’re two of the absolute best songs of the year, and almost certainly the ones I listened to most in 2013, especially b-side “True Trans Soul Rebel”. I wouldn’t have felt right not including it here.
In a total coincidence, today happens to be the day that Against Me!’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues, which includes finished versions of both of these songs, is out. In a fit of masochistic self-importance, I’ve refused to listen to the new album until I finish this piece; I didn’t want hearing these songs with the full studio treatment to color my thoughts on the versions I’ve listened to all year long*, which frankly are tremendous just the way they are. Vulnerability is a new pose for Against Me!, and they manage it here without sacrificing any of their power. Laura Jane Grace’s voice retains its strident bite even sans bark; the high-pitched ambient feedback that undergirds the acoustic guitar on both tracks lends them a depth and resonance that doesn’t make itself obvious until repeated listens.
The upside of that coincidence with the release date is that a thousand thinkpieces and, more importantly, interviews have covered the subject of Grace’s decision to come out as trans. It’s not something I really want to delve too deeply into here. It’s apparent that the vast majority of attention Against Me! are getting right now is due to Grace’s apparent otherness, to our curiosity at the things we don’t quite understand (and, I imagine, can’t really understand at a deep level rather than just, say, an intellectual one, without having been there ourselves.) Let’s not pretend otherwise. Hell, I’ve gone from a big Against Me! fan back in the Searching For A Former Clarity days to one who hardly gave more than a cursory listen or three to White Crosses; I’m not sure I’d be paying much attention this time out if it wasn’t for extra-musical interest.
But what makes True Trans so great is the way Grace universalizes that experience without ever losing hold of its personal meaning – indeed, it’s the deeply personal nature of the songs that grants them their universal power. I’ll never know what it feels like to ask myself “who’s gonna take you home tonight, who’s gonna take you home? // does God bless your transsexual heart?” But the confusion, the fear, the bitterness and the bravery in Grace’s vocal reflects images of places I know, places we’ve all known – we may each carry weights of different shapes and sizes, but we all know the struggle of shouldering a heavy load. And being specific her personal struggles casts them as so much more real than more generically “relatable” lyrics ever could, and definitely more so than the more metaphoric lyrics of the last few Against Me! albums (not to mention the political songs). It’s been a long time since I’ve found Against Me! this compelling.
So with that said, I’m going to hit “Post” and go listen to Transgender Dysphoria Blues. And, if True Trans is any indicator, I’ll find myself scribbling preliminary notes for 2014’s Top Ten.
*I have heard both songs, as well as most of the rest of the album, live a couple times, both acoustic and full-band; they’re only more powerful in person.