Maryland trio Trans Am embark on their tenth studio album, aptly titled Volume X. While TA are deft at cracking musical codes with ease, there is a coldness to Volume X that makes it feel a bit hollow. Several tracks are short in length (see: “K Street,” “Backlash,” and “Failure”), giving an unfinished air, while others give off the feeling of a group out to entertain themselves (see: ”Reevaluations” and “I’ll Never”).

Despite all the characteristic genre tangles and the arduous inside jokes, TA do manage several key cuts on Volume X that expose their importance as a band and why they should be heralded as such. “Night Shift,” “Megastorm,” and “Insufficiently Breathless” all characterize what makes TA the force that they are. The trio can create a soundscape with more reverence and tact than any other contemporary group going – in fact, many contemporaries would have little to pull from without their existing discography. It can safely be stated that TA are the best ambient/krautrock band to happen in the past 30 years but they rarely show it, usually offering only a few cuts on each record that specifically cite what they do best. Even more maddening is the fact that these specific cuts on Volume X are not only as good as the godheads (Can, Harmonia, Cluster, Eno, and Neu!), but that they also continue to move their ideas forward.

Volume X feels like you walked in on a party that you were invited to, but by people you don’t really know very well. This allows the listener the ability to hear the music but doesn’t give them any insight into the group’s true mindset or allow them to participate. This is what is vexing about the trio and what keeps them from being the acclaimed band they deserve to be. TA can be otherworldly with bits and pieces of their catalogue to prove it. Volume X adds more stray brilliance to the set, but it’s not the release that will denote the band’s significance.

Thrill Jockey