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Monday, Oct. 3, 2011

Trans-Am @ Cactus Club

Oct. 2, 2011

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When the Maryland-based post-rock band Trans-Am released Futureworld, which featured the first use of vocals by the group, in 1999, American culture was in the throes of self-congratulation. In hindsight, the album should have served as the perfect soundtrack for life in fin-de-siecle America—and as a harbinger for what was to soon come. Songs like "Cocaine Computer," "City in Flames," and "Sad and Young" capture the feeling that a decade of economic and technological growth did little to reconnect us to one another. Sadly, the exuberance of the moment led instead to the turn-of-the-century dance-rock craze, as bands like The Rapture, Hot Hot Heat and The Killers cashed in on those that wanted to continue partying like it was 1999.

As part of the ongoing celebration of the Cactus Club's 15th birthday (quite an achievement in this day and age), the band performed Futureworld in its entirely Sunday night. Sadly, the band played to a less than packed room, suggesting that perhaps the world of indie rock still isn't ready for this ground-breaking album. But this didn't stop Trans-Am from putting on a riveting show. Futureworld speaks well to a post-financial meltdown United States, as the album creates a dense, foreboding atmosphere that adroitly draws upon melancholy, anger, and a sense of impending doom over the record's ten-song arc. In reality, the album works better in 2011 than it did in 1999, and the members of Trans-Am played these songs with a passion that backs this up. One did not feel that the band was going through the motions playing songs that are now over 10 years old. In fact, there is also a certain timelessness present in the best material on Futureworld, a reality that has given the album such staying power. The band would have fit well on a bill with Kraftwerk in the 1970s, or LCD Soundsystem in the 21st century.

Despite their reliance on electronics, Trans-Am is still a flesh and blood band, one that uses such technology to comment upon its impact on—and overuse in—contemporary society. As vocalist Nathan Means forlornly sang "All alone in the future world," from Futureworld's title track, it became clear that Trans-Am remains relevant because they speak so directly to the often troubled relationship between technology and humanity. Powered by drummer Sebastian Thomson's martial beat, the song reminded the audience that the musicians remained in control of their instruments. This was music created by man, not machine.