After years in the business, the Florida punk rock band Against Me! started to gain traction outside of their cult following after lead singer Laura Jane Grace came out as transgender in 2012. Following her public transition, Grace claimed her stake in her new identity and as a transgender activist on 2014’s “Transgender Dysphoria Blues,” a weighty, sprawling and intimidatingly candid record about Grace’s transition and issues facing the transgender community that turned the punk scene on its head. While “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” is a seminal album for the role of transgender people in the music business and singular in its themes and issues, the band’s seventh album “Shape Shift With Me” is everything their previous album is not.
While “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” was an integral record for the visibility of transgender people in music, Grace went into writing “Shape Shift With Me” with the intention of not making the same album twice. Instead of discussing the politics at hand, Grace wanted to talk about her everyday life as a trans woman. “There needs to be more records about trans rights and everything like that,” Grace said in an interview with Rolling Stone, “but feeling like I already did that, I wanted to move on to write commentary on living from a trans perspective. I wanted to write the transgender response to the Rolling Stones' ‘Exile On Main St.,’ Liz Phair's ‘Exile In Guyville’ and the Streets' ‘A Grand Don’t Come For Free.’ All those records are relationship records.”
On “Shape Shift With Me,” listeners are brought along on the daily tribulations trans-identified persons deal with on the regular. On the album’s chaotic opener “ProVision L-3,” Grace calls out the invasive nature of airplane security scanners as she forthrightly ponders, “What can you see inside of me?"
Even when Grace is entirely personal, the content is still political. With fierce valor and unflinching righteousness, Grace personifies transgender people and reminds us all that they are alive among us and will not stand to be silenced any longer.
Juxtaposed with Grace’s steadfast fortitude is the sensitive side Grace was tapping into when writing “Shape Shift With Me.” Even in her most vulnerable places, Grace is never weak: on album highlight “Delicate, Petite & Other Things I’ll Never Be,” Grace reveals she wants to be “so real you can’t see the difference,” before begging “I wanna know how you stay you, the world is not enough, I want your brutal truth.”
Against Me! has long been lauded for their literate lyrics, but “Shape Shift With Me” instills beauty and pain in the sheer reality it encompasses.
Even taking away the pretenses of gender, “Shape Shift With Me” reveals a vulnerable, honest, and unwavering album with the Against Me! signature punk sound still intact. Though it is easy to become preoccupied with Grace’s scathing truths, the album is just as sonically dense as its lyrical content. The music is as dissonant and churning as its lyrical counterparts, combining for a visceral experience never heard before on a single album. Even seven albums into their catalogue, Against Me! have reinvented themselves into a new incarnation of the band that will bring them much farther than they’ve ever been before.