The Florida-born Against Me! has been one of the standard-bearers of politicized nth-generation punk since their debut in 1998, thanks to the strangled voice and beauty-in-ugliness lyrics of singer-guitarist Laura Jane Grace. Her ability to sound like a truth-teller, with her points surrounded by a maelstrom of riffs and blitzkrieg drums, has only gotten stronger since she cut her band’s first demo nearly two decades ago. On the new Against Me! album, “Shape Shift With Me,” she’s shifting her focus a bit. Grace, who came out as a trans woman in 2012, proves the old adage about the personal being political with this fiery album, which takes on a white-hot, universal topic — romantic love.
Grace’s lyrics have always had an urgency about them, a feeling that’s only been driven home by her band’s delectable hooks. But on “Shape Shift With Me,” the frenetic feeling put forth by her witty, profane poetry is heightened, echoing the emotional rush that comes with each stage of a romantic relationship’s ebb and flow. “Just because I intellectualize it doesn’t mean I feel it in my chest,” she spits on the pulsing “Norse Truth,” and for all the steel-toed spirit of its music, much of “Shape Shift With Me” seems to emanate from that soft, confusing space between the body and the mind. On the brooding “Delicate, Petite, & Other Things I’ll Never Be,” she snarls “I wanna know how youuu see youuu” over razor-wire guitars, placing her hopes in the unknowable thoughts of another person, while the speeding-locomotive pace of “Rebecca” brightly underlines its fast and loose attitude toward romance (”Rebecca kiss me, but let’s not fall in love”) — although Grace’s roaring delivery on the latter track hints at the possibility for feelings that linger beyond the immediate moment.
Living on the edge is nothing new for Against Me!, whose finely distilled take on punk incorporates grime-distorted guitars and searing solos while still feeling terse. “Shape Shift With Me” is a sharply penned love letter both to the idea of romance and the people who engage in it, brimming with deep yet concisely expressed emotions that can only be worked out through top-of-the-lungs bellowing.
Against Me! plays Royale on Sept. 19.Maura Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.