As with many artists this year, Laura Jane Grace has felt the impact of the music industry at a near standstill. With upcoming Against Me! plans halted, Grace instead took to the studio with producer Steve Albini to create a raw and immediate solo record, ‘Stay Alive’.
As the choppy guitars give way to Grace‘s vocals on opener ‘Swimming Pool Song’, it becomes apparent that the record is one driven by her lyrical narrative and passionate delivery. With a punk undercurrent behind the track, it’s easy to draw comparisons to Against Me!, whilst follow up ‘Calendar Song’ brushes against folk finger-picking and a softer approach to bring the record away from Grace‘s previous releases.
The sonic deviations continue throughout the record, notably with both ‘Shelter In Place’ and ‘Supernatural Possession’. The bubbling synths serve as a contrast to the punchy guitars to create a new wave feel in the former, whilst the latter leans into producer Albini‘s trademarks to create a gritty yet pop smeared highlight.
A streamlined release with most tracks clocking in at the two minute mark, the record benefits from the raw and energetic delivery. With the longest track on the record serving as a hypnotising slow burner, ‘Mountain Song’ re-enforces the strength of Grace‘s song writing with a brutally honest delivery and an irresistible coda.
Proving that simplicity and restraint can elevate a track, ‘Why Kant I Be You’ ushers in the album’s second half with a tightly wound and tense song that threatens to explode at any point. Following up with a playfully percussive ‘Ice Cream Song’, alliterated vocals and circling chords drag the record further away from the punk sound that it was originally intended for.
Closing with the one-two punch of ‘So Long, Farewell, Auf Wierdersehen, Fuck Off’ and ‘Old Friend (Stay Alive)’, Grace distils the essence of the record. With acid guitars and sing-along lyrics driving the former and deliberate chords and lingering space dominating the latter, both tracks capture the defiant message of the record perfectly.
Weaving deft story telling alongside memorable hooks and a pulsating energy, Laura Jane Grace adds another solid record to her already distinguished back catalogue. Whether ‘Stay Alive’ is an indication of the next chapter in her career or a stand alone project, it’s a welcome one.