Transistor Transistor - Ruined Lives (Cover Artwork)

Transistor Transistor

Ruined Lives (2008)

Level Plane

How much further can rock music go? Has it hit the inevitable dead end? Or was it a cul-de-sac all along with five decades of greased-up rockers spinning their wheels all the while convincing themselves they were almost there? Reaching a destination was never the point. What matters is the drive itself, the movement, and in music's case, the actual creation and performance. So while every new rock combo touts themselves as the New Thing with a New Sound, such pronouncements are immediately squashed by a casual listen that reveals them for the mountebanks they are (though every great rock band has been a thief and a fraud).

Transistor Transistor enjoy the drive. They swerve and swing and hang out the windows, howling rapturously at the night. Though this was always readily apparent during their live performances, the records never quite captured their joy de vivre. 2005's Erase All Names and Likeness came close. But it is with Ruined Lives that they coherently translate their live language onto wax.

Transistor Transistor never sounded more rabid, hungry and determined, like feral dogs locked in a 6' x 6' cage with slabs of meat dangling just above the bars. "Morning Sickness" sprints from the gate, like Seabiscuit on cocaine. It's easily the greatest song the band has conceived, something like the illegitimate offspring of Jehu and Melvins circa Houdini. The former informs the E chord crashes of the jumping first section and the latter finds its way into the slow avalanches of the song's finale.

These are well-written tunes, clearly the result of tucking themselves away for three years somewhere up there in a state whose motto is Live Free or Die. Though they still wear their influences a little too loudly on their sleeves (Hot Snakes, anyone?), it does nothing to quell the personality in their music. The energy and passion are palpable, like a thing you can touch during their music. Maybe it's the protean screaming that makes the speakers sizzle or the drums that sound like they're exploding with each hit.

Transistor Transistor's only misstep -- their unguarded Achilles heal -- is their insistence on forcing a long-ass song or two onto their records. They serve as moguls in the slope of the album, stunting the horse-kick impact. "Pillar of Salt" is among the heaviest things this band has mustered but could have benefited from shedding a minute or two. "Harvest" drags as if boulders are strapped to it. This band operates at maximum performance when utilizing efficiency.

This is why "Letter of Resignation," "The Price of Gasoline" and "Celluloid Rats" kick more ass than Kimbo Slice. At their heart, Transistor Transistor are a pure rock band. They've always been a full-throttle machine, more interested in the snarling, sneering, throw caution to the wind rock ‘n' roll as opposed to the mellow indie matching polo shirt variety. The wheels aren't being reinvented but the ride is still worth it.