Laura Jane Grace - Stay Alive Music Album Reviews

Laura Jane Grace - Stay Alive Music Album Reviews
The Against Me! frontwoman intended to record these bracing songs with her main band before the pandemic sidelined that plan. Her austere solo version feels like a pale shadow of the real thing.

Is there a producer better cut out for the pandemic than Steve Albini? The famously hands-off engineer has been keeping a safe distance from bands in his studio since well before the CDC was advising it, and the coronavirus hasn't changed his process much. As Laura Jane Grace tells it, masks aside, the recording sessions for her first solo album Stay Alive weren't all that different from the usual Albini productions: no computers, no overdubs, no wasted time or niceties. They tracked the album in just two days. “I could kind of tell that if I did more than two takes, he got annoyed,” Grace told Rolling Stone.
Stay Alive is not the album Grace hoped to record this year. She intended these songs for Against Me!'s first album since 2016's Shape Shift With Me, but the pandemic uprooted those plans, stranding her band in separate parts of the country. Rather than let her songs grow cold, she committed them to this largely acoustic set, an austere shadow of the electric Against Me! record that might have been. Save for an occasional primitive drum machine or amplifier, it's largely just Grace's graveled voice and her six-string guitar—her rawest recording since the very earliest years of Against Me!, when the band was essentially a folk-punk solo project.

Despite the spartan setup, Stay Alive doesn't shy from volume. Grace pitches her voice somewhere between a bark and a roar, intermittently channeling the uninhibited wail of The Mountain Goats' John Darnielle. At its best the session has the intimacy and power of a living room concert; at other times it's more like a subway busker performing too loud for passersby who won't make eye contact.

Although these songs were written before Covid-19, Grace uses them to process the shock of our new normal, conjuring the helplessness of those first few weeks of lockdown in particular. “This only feels like the death of everything,” she snarls on the hard-strummed opener “Swimming Pool Song.” On “The Calendar Song,” she longs for travel, fantasizing about the tropical warmth of Portugal or the vibrant green pastures of Glasgow. Cabin fever hangs over the entire album. “There's always someone dying to leave where you're dying to get to,” she sings on “Shelter in Place,” yet another song that somehow predates the pandemic, despite lyrics like “my own private paradise quarantine is very nice.”

Generally the ferocity of the performances make more of an impression than the songs themselves. Though it doesn't mince words about Donald Trump's flirtations with white supremacy, “Hanging Tree” once again lays to waste the idea that his election was somehow going to usher in a golden age of protest music. “You're tweet-tweet-tweeting from a golden tower/Ain't got no soul to sell and that's your power,” Grace sneers. She's got the conviction, but it's hard for even the boldest songwriters to lobby a critique of this guy that isn't already expressed hundreds of times an hour online.

COVID-19 has taught us to settle for poor substitutes, because they're all we have—birthday parties with three people, live streams instead of concerts, Zoom happy hours instead of real ones. So perhaps it's in the spirit of the times that, like almost everything in our lives right now, Grace's solo debut feels like an unceremonious consolation. Once the allure of hearing Grace so stripped down wears off, the record begins to sound like what it is: glorified demos for an Against Me! album we'll never get to hear. Even at its most vital, Stay Alive never escapes the sense that the pandemic has one again cheated us out of something better.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Laura Jane Grace - Stay Alive Music Album Reviews Laura Jane Grace - Stay Alive Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Tuesday, October 27, 2020 Rating: 5

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