Laura Jane Grace – Stay Alive

Laura Jane Grace - Stay Alive - album coverI’ve said it before and no doubt will say it again but the last year or so has been particularly tumultuous pretty much everywhere around the world and, on her recent solo album Stay Alive, Laura Jane Grace has captured something of that, and the thoughts and feelings that go along with it.

Starting in pure acoustic form with just Laura and her guitar the scene is set for a deeply intimate set of songs that really have the feeling of welcoming you into her Chicago apartment where, for obvious reasons, she appears to have been ‘holed up’ since the pandemic struck.

These first tracks set the scene of an album packed with longing to once again see the world, with a somewhat specific obsession with Europe and the Iberian Peninsula, something I think most of us can relate to at this point.

Laura Jane Grace circa 2020
Laura Jane Grace

Combined with that is the deeply rooted quest for self expression and self identity that has become a hallmark of Grace’s work across all her bands and solo work and, as the album goes on. these subjects weave in and out of each other just as the music does.

Along with the purely acoustic songs we get ones that add embellishments of what sounds like drum machines, electric guitar effects and extra layers of vocals, with a couple of tracks sounding like new Against Me! singles just in a more raw form – which makes sense as it’s likely a lot of these track were really intended for a new AM! album.

Supernatural Possession is a highlight of these more complete songs but isn’t the only high point of the record.

Laura Jane Grace circa 2020
Laura Jane Grace

Hanging Tree sees Laura head into more directly political territory, reflecting the ongoing situation in America (but it hard to avoid the comparisons elsewhere), while Mountain Song is a great combination of a classic American folk with personal punk lyrical content and a lyric that sums up something of the mood of the album, ‘I’m all fucked up but I’m alive’.

The album is then bookended by two rather different songs but that have a similar tone I can only describe as positively melancholy (if such an oxymoron can make sense).

Swimming Pool Song combines a lot of what we are familiar with from Against Me! with a brilliant lyrical turn of phrase, while Old Friend (Stay Alive) closes the record with a similar but more direct feel.

Laura Jane Grace (and Atom Willard) of Against Me!
Laura Jane Grace on stage with Against Me! in 2016

While in some situations an album like this might sound like a series of demos and sketches, here Grace, along with some subtle production touches from Steve Albini, has elevated them into a raw and evocative exploration of life in lockdown while showing the range of her writing in a way a new Against Me! album might not have done so.

So, rather than sounding like a stop gap or missed opportunity for the band, Stay Alive is a fine solo record in its own right with some terrific stand out moments.

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