Trans Am are distillers of guilty pleasures, mixing fat AOR riffs with sleazy electronic accents and a propulsive attitude typically reserved for arcade soundtracks. What Day Is It Tonight? covers the DC-area band’s 20-year history with high-quality, high-energy live cuts taken from their many tours.
The Kraftwerk-inspired “Outmoder” contrasts nervy, krautrock guitar with a deep, grooving bass line to produce a surprisingly rhythmic, albeit spastic, crowd pleaser. It’s a prime example of the group’s skill at creating coherent, startling juxtapositions out of their many diverse influences. A Styxian vocoder marks selections from the band’s 1999 album Futureworld that include the title track and “Television Eyes.”
These numbers are soaked in a disorienting futurist nostalgia that epitomizes Trans Am’s ironic humor and their ability to transform leaden clichés into gold. Yet the less affected the music is, the less compelling it becomes. It’s the artifice and the intertextuality that make the band so entertaining; when the veil drops even a little bit, as with the crisp vocals of the sludgy “Slow Response,” much of the fun is dissipated.