With Thing, Trans Am returns to its robot rock ways after the often brilliant detours the group took on Sex Change. Despite the album’s cryptic title, the band sounds more straightforward than they have in years: “Black Matter” is a quintessentially Trans Am track, all vocoders and drummer Sebastian Thomson's masterful rhythms, with a name that reflects the album’s fascination with the darker side of science fiction and science fact. But this band rarely sounds predictable, even when it explores familiar territory (the time they spent on other projects in between albums, including playing with Jonas Reinhardt, probably has something to do with this). Thing may be Trans Am’s most prog rock-influenced album yet; it comes complete with the majestic fanfare of “Please Wait” as well as plenty of drum solos and spooky atmospheres. Electronic textures that blur the line between eerie and sleazy dominate tracks as far-flung as “Arcadia”’s pretty-yet-creepy dance-punk and the viscous “Bad Vibes,” which boasts squealing and streaking synths that recall the earliest electronic recordings and dark, blobby tones that suggest lava lamps filled with tar. But when Trans Am brings the guitars, they make them count, whether it’s on “Maximum Yield”s zero-gravity stoner metal or the epic “Heaven’s Gate,” a six-minute grind that gets slower and more expansive as it unfolds. The band even leaves room for a few pretty moments, like the aptly named “Interstellar Drift” and the portentous finale “Space Dock,” which mixes whooshing and burbling synths straight out of a ‘70s documentary with new age-inspired acoustic guitars and drones. Despite all these nuances, Thing feels surprisingly lean. This may not be an expectations-defying album, but it is a satisfying and well-rounded one that shows once again what a well-oiled man-machine Trans Am is.