Designed like a mixtape – cheeky Britpop brushing against campfire sarcasm and gothy surf – Bought to Rot is more casual than Laura Jane Grace’s records with Against Me!, the storied Florida punk band she has fronted for 20 years. She wrote it on the road with drummer Atom Willard and bassist Mark Jacob Hudson, working in a more immediate fashion than usual. The lighter touch might offer anyone deterred by her heavier material a welcoming introduction to this ironclad songwriter.
Grace excels at embodying the jaded outsider who secretly craves connection: her fierce sprechgesang on Amsterdam Hotel Room accelerates as she sings about wanting to be left alone but surreptitiously “trying to manifest that kind of energy” that will draw her lover close. Once love takes, it’s a salve against society’s collapse: “I’m on top of the world at the end of the world with you,” she sings on Apocalypse Now (& Later), interweaving nihilism and tenderness into an endearingly catchy ramshackle song of romance.
There is sheer destruction – the feckless energy of Manic Depression collapses into a mudslide guitar solo that seems to revel in letting the facade fall – but also sweet teenage sentiment (Born in Black, The Airplane Song). These qualities come together in I Hate Chicago, a tirade against the city’s pizza, bad manners, festivals and airports, which she ultimately admits, “is actually just another divorce song / Maybe it’s not all of Cook County’s fault.” She is self-effacing, emotionally incisive and capable of inciting teenage fervour in cynical souls. There are few like her.
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