'Bought to Rot' - Laura Jane Grace & The Devouring Mothers / Turned Up Louder
After being part of one of the most successful punk bands of the past two decades, Against Me! vocalist Laura Jane Grace is spreading her wings with her new project, Laura Jane Grace & the Devouring Mothers. The band is completed by Against Me! drummer Atom Willard and producer for Against Me!, Marc Jacob Hudson, and together they have produced one of the most diverse records of the year so far. The album was in part an homage to one of Grace’s heroes, the legendary Tom Petty, and the influence that his passing has had on the record is unmistakable. There are moments of intense, grungy darkness as well as blinding classic rock light, and the balance between depth and simplicity can be felt across the breadth of the record.
Some of that characteristic punk grit that fuelled Against Me!’s rise to prominence can still be felt as influences on this record. Opener ‘China Beach’ crackles into life with a section of spoken word set to staccato guitars, dripping with an unctuous venom that spills over into barely controlled screams: setting the tone for the palpable tension that lurks beneath the surface of even the most seemingly breezy tracks on the record. The candid nature of lyricism that rides the divide between song and spoken word re-emerges on ‘Amsterdam Hotel Room’- raw and unsullied, the claustrophobia that permeates the lyrics manifests itself in the bursts of rugged screams that pepper the backdrop of undulating, indie-esque guitars. That depth and darkness is also evident on ‘Valeria Golina’ a track that is tinged with a greater venom than much of the record- like a bead of jet amongst a cluster of amethysts, the racing, unrelenting chords blur one note into the next, binding together with Laura Jane Grace’s powerful, coarse vocals into a spiderweb of a dark grungy atmosphere.
Yet despite this, the record carries a powerful dichotomy of tones, epitomised in tracks such as ‘Screamy Dreamy’, which does exactly what it says on the tin! Opening with a cascade of slow, melancholy notes, the soothing lullaby suddenly breaks like a wave into pulses of piercing guitars and thundering drums, overtured by a dusting of screams before descending back into a placid haze, like slowly dispersing ripples in a millpond. This balance of light and dark follows through much of the record, the lightest moments coming on songs such as first single ‘Apocalypse Now (& Later)’, a truly touching track whose lyrics speak of watching the end of the world with the person you love most Though it is packed with touches of the big classic rock tunes in the guitar tone, the grit in the vocals stops the track veering too far into airy country rock territory. Other tracks are breezier still: the upbeat dalliance of the guitars on ‘The Airplane Song’ captures the light-hearted horizon-gazing of the airplane in the title with a surprisingly jolly melody that masks the heartache of someone ‘torn between two lovers’, while the endearingly sweet ode to friendship that is ‘The Friendship Song’ carries the listener along in the infectious, bubbly happiness of the melody, you just can’t help but smile and nod your head along! A slightly more muted, yet by no means less impactful moment comes in the form of ‘Born In Black’. It’s swaying melody blends with the soaring vocals tinged with Laura Jane Grace’s characteristic grit, but with an airy, almost orchestral atmosphere, so that it conjures up images of swaying arms and waving lighters.
Perhaps the most resonant element of this brilliant record, however, comes in its powerful simplicity. Drums pulse away at the heart of the verses of ‘Reality Bites’, with little indie guitar noodles that characterise the pre-choruses, yet there is nothing overcomplicated about it and it is all the better for it, allowing the truth at the heart of the lyrics that ‘nobody wants to be themselves, they all want to be someone else’ shine through. Similarly, the powerfully deliberate simplicity of the alternating notes that provide the backdrop to ‘The Hotel Song’ mean that despite its sleepy melody, there is nothing sedate about the candid lyrics, as they take centre stage even as the track builds into a crashing crescendo of cymbals. This balance of lyrical candour and stunningly unsullied melodies gives us some of the album’s highlights: ‘I Hate Chicago’ marries comically jovial guitars and an atmosphere of sarcastic merriment with fiercely unapologetic lyrics that pull no punches where Grace’s adopted hometown or the people who have let her down are concerned! Perhaps the most stunning of all, however is ‘Manic Depression’, which begins with a hypnotic blend of grungy grinding basslines that create the sense of moving through treacle, with barely audible vocals drifting through the fog masked by a high pitched buzz. Yet all of this is cut through by the bluntly honest lyrics about the profoundly un-discriminatory nature of depression and mental illness, illustrating clearly that despite the suffocating fog of being trapped in your own head, this is one band who refuse to ever be silenced.
There is nothing overcomplicated or officious about this record- every element feels essential and deliberate. That is not to say that it lacks depth or complexity- rather, that the lack of eccentric frills in the melody allows for the brutal sincerity and passion of the vocals to shine through all the more brightly. Honesty is something that is becoming exceedingly rare in music these days, but something that with ‘Bought to Rot’, Laura Jane Grace & The Devouring Mothers have delivered in spades.
‘Bought to Rot’ is out on November 9th on Bloodshot Records. Listen to the first single, ‘Apocalypse Now (& Later)’ below: