Washington, D.C., instrumentalists Trans Am have made a career out of being Kraftwerk-obsessed indie rockers who, instead of disco-ing out their rock urges, rock out their disco urges. The trio has always drawn on New Order as much as ZZ Top or even the spazzy soundtracks of Atari 2600 games. But on Sex Change, they sound amazed and renewed the smirky hipster irony is history, replaced with a sense of wonder about the possibilities of synthesizer-based rock. There are jams that recall the pulse of Led Zeppelin on "In Through the Out Door," or Pink Floyd's "Run Like Hell," but Trans Am drifts just as easily toward quiet unions of synthesizer sustain and whale-call slide guitar. The latter approach sounds freshest. "First Words" and "North East Rising Sun" have an early feel early in the morning, but also early in the recording process, before things get too clever. They also embody that awe over synths themselves that Trans Am seemed to lose over the last few records. Still, when the trio tries to rock out too hard, it can sound more clever than good. Remember, this is instrumental, synth-based happy rock, so one man's "Run Like Hell" can just as easily be another man's "Miami Vice Theme." And anyway, Brooklyn's Ratatatat is already the heavier rock version of Air. But even when Sex Change is flawed, Trans Am still sounds renewed. Or even transformed.
Hobey Echlin writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.