What Day Is It Tonight? (Live 1993-2008)
Hipster culture exists and sustains itself on a continuous loop, a vicious never-ending cycle, like a Möbius strip or an Ouroboros, the snake eating its own tail. Take something once mainstream and now uncool, adopt it with tongue planted firmly in cheek as “so bad it's good,” deem said sound/product/style “cool,” and watch as it is co-opted by a broader audience and becomes mainstream. Later, rinse and repeat. Every once in a while such a revival of the old dredges up some long-lost gem, but most of the time it's just masturbatory. It's hard to know which of these – true appreciative nostalgia or hipsterdom – motivates Trans Am.
When it comes to culture, it seems very likely that people can revive punk or disco or New Wave from now until the end of time. Trans Am has based their entire musical careers on revivalism, specializing in the recording and performance of original music that sounds like it was originally made by someone else. Much like British band Primal Scream, Trans Am are professional genre hoppers. The group is definitely possessed of the musical alacrity it takes to convince the casual listener that Trans Am is serious about the songs Trans Am makes. They've undergone a number of different sonic incarnations over the years, including krautrock and electro-funk. It's a point made plain by their December 2009 release, What Day Is It Tonight? (Although given a limited release of 1500 copies – and now listed as discontinued by the manufacturers on Amazon.com – the live album is still available as an MP3 download.)
The group's sense of humor permeates every song, from titles to instrument choices, from rhythms to how they use reverb. Vocals are filtered through vocoders and synthesziers. Opening track “Conspiracy of the Gods” is bombastic wankery from first note to last. Frantic '80s car-chase-scene guitars and a rolling surge of drums accompany that classic unmistakable '80s keyboard warble. It's a track played with genuine passion in the midst of the group's supposedly mocking interest; it even ends with the classic boom drum wind down. "Tesco v. Sainsbury's" is inexplicably about two British supermarket chains. Because their music is predominantly instrumental, there are no lyrics to explain why Trans Am chose to record a song that supposedly pits two grocery stores against one another. They just recorded the song, and perform it quickly and efficiently.
As a listener with a deep-seated disdain for noodling and a longtime appreciation for synthy rock mishmashes, my own aesthetic sensibilities mean I'm personally more inclined to like the blippy and the bloopy tracks, although “Play In The Summer” (from 2000's “The Red Line”) is a good guitar-driven track. There are two things that strike me as odd about this live album. First of all, although the album claims to cover the band's career from 1993 through 2008, the group's Allmusic.com biography states that the band formed in 1990, but didn't record until 1995. Secondly, while there are seventeen songs on What Day Is It Tonight?, none of those songs come from their first three albums. Trans Am released an album a year from 1996 through 2000, but the first album whose live songs are on “What Day Is It Tonight?” is the 1999 release “Futureworld.”
Maybe this is all part of their self-awareness of the clichés of popular music.