For more than 15 years, Against Me! has explored Laura Jane Grace’s private interactions with various political realities that annoy and exasperate her; going public as a transgender woman in 2012 opened the door to a fresh trove of such material for 2014’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Having said so much on that record—and, perhaps, given how much others have said on issues of transgender rights and societal acceptance in recent years—it makes sense that Grace has eased off similar observations for Shape Shift With Me. As that title suggests, it’s a much more personal album, dealing largely with romance and other sticky matters of the heart.
Whether or not Grace intends to serve as a spokesperson for the transgender community, her current focus is inward: In loosely following a narrative of couplings accumulated during world travels, Shape Shift With Me intimately portrays her love and sex life with frankness and candor (though perhaps not quite as straightforwardly as upcoming memoir Tranny: Confessions Of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout presumably will). Even deployment of metaphor only barely hides the emotional revelations underneath; on the catchy fuzz-pop cut “Crash,” for example, she dreads the inevitable end of an ill-fated relationship, pleading, “I’m not a crash landing / Let me stay up in your orbit a while.” Meanwhile, songs such as “ProVision L-3” combine confessed insecurities with snarky cultural commentary, as Grace asks the titular model of airport security scanner, “What can you see inside of me? / Hands in the air, assume the position.”
While embracing a general change in theme, Shape Shift With Me does not much shift the band’s musical shape: Brawny, distorted hooks with pounding percussion and chanted anthems are still Against Me!’s bread and butter, and tracks such as “333” will feel immediately familiar even if the chorus is as lyrically lusty as “I want to be as close as I can get to you.” It’s hard not to wonder if the record’s collaborative songwriting process suggests Grace is running out of her own ideas. But as these not-too-complicated riffs march their way to nostalgic closer “All This (And More),” there’s no disagreeable drop-off in intensity or quality. Those who like their alt-punk laced with introspection and intellectualism will continue to like Grace’s music, and perhaps learn a bit about what it’s like to be her as well.