After 2014’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues, Against Me! had quite the task on their hands – how do you follow such a deeply political, darkly personal, and defiantly progressive album? Well. Somehow, they’ve managed it.
Shape Shift With Me opens with the forceful frustration of ‘ProVision L-3’, the record’s most explicitly political track, named after a model of airport security scanner. Although abrasive and unflinching in its protest, this song also intertwines the personal as frontwoman Laura Jane Grace repeatedly screams “What can you see inside of me?” Having entered the realms of ‘celebrity’ in recent years, following her coming out as transgender in Rolling Stone magazine and becoming a public advocate for trans* folk, it is unsurprising that Grace is experiencing anxieties about being under surveillance.
Ultimately though, the theme of this record is love. Love, and all that is messy, painful and confusing about it. Stand-out tracks are the resentful and sardonic ‘Boyfriend’, and the confessional ‘Delicate, Petite & Other Things I’ll Never Be’ – the latter’s opening statement of “I wanna be more real than all of the others / I wanna be more real than all the rest” making for a more intense listening experience than anything you’ve heard before. Others such as ‘Rebecca’ and closing song ‘All This (And More)’ are sensual, they explore and express sexuality – an understandable progression from Grace’s exploration of gender in the previous album.
Whilst it is undoubtedly the wit, self-deprecation, and intensity of Laura Jane Grace’s lyrics which define Against Me!, the hefty sound is key too. Thanks to the addition of new drummer Atom Willard, the rhythm is more central than ever, most noticeable in loud and energetic songs like ‘Crash’ and ‘333’. The anthemic punk sound is still very much present, although some of these songs are perhaps more radio friendly than past material.
However, it doesn’t feel like this band have lost anything, and I for one am more than happy to see them expand.