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TRANS AM/PAN SONIC
For years now the music press has charted the progression of Trans Am with a laughable seriousness: this album leans heavily toward electronic music, while this one retreats into aggressive math rock, yada yada yada. The big scoop on their new album, Futureworld (Thrill Jockey), is that it reconciles those two sides. Which it does. But I’ve yet to see one review mention the one true constant: the band’s geeky humor, which has reached a fever pitch on the new album. For the first time they’ve added vocals, most of which are fed through that 70s relic, the Vocoder. “Cocaine Computer” takes a hilariously leaden stab at electro-funk (“Pack Jam” meets Herbie Hancock), and “Runners Standing Still” feels less like a Tangerine Dream homage than a Tangerine Dream parody. But the Kraftwerkian title track is the piece de resistance, a vision of the “future” from two decades ago: “Sitting alone in my futureworld / Fax machine, telephone”–and presumably the dot matrix printer used to create the cover art. The Finnish duo of Pan Sonic, who open for Trans Am on this bill, have never employed much humor in their stark electronic music–at least not on purpose. The only thing remotely funny about last year’s aptly titled Endless (Blast First/Mute) was guest vocalist Alan Vega’s Tourette’s-like ranting, which when compared to the claustrophobia-inducing power whisper of his work in Suicide seemed more pathetic than anything. A much better and more typical example of Pan Sonic’s work is the recent A–named for the letter the group removed from its previous, trademark-infringing moniker. Like its brilliant predecessors, Vakio and Kulma, A reduces electronic sound to its most basic elements, clicking patterns that can be accelerated into a steady tone or fattened into a thumping beat, leavened with industrial hums and beat-box patter and arranged into shifting textures and fluttering densities. It’s music to feel rather than hear–the punch of a beat, the rumble of a tone, the piercing static of electronic disconnection–and that’s one good reason to experience Pan Sonic live, even if there’s nothing much to see. Saturday, 6:30 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 773-549-0203. PETER MARGASAK