Laura Jane Grace – Stay Alive

Sometimes its about making something that matters. Or trying to

This review is not one of my normal ones. I usually listen to an album 20 plus times, really get to know it, so I can give you my honest balanced opinion.

This is not one of those reviews.

I pretty much didn’t need to hear this album to write about it.

I am a haunted swimming pool
I am emptied out and drained
My capacity remains unchanged

Laura Jane Grace (AKA frontperson of Against Me) has thrown together an album whilst stuck in a house for 6 months. Sound familiar? “More lockdown nonsense, oh I’m tired of that“. But that’s exactly the point. We are tired of that.

And when my body has been spent my soul here will remain
Graffiti on a wall for all eyes to see
This only feels like the death of everything

I’ll always have so much time for Laura and Against Me! – if only because “As the Eternal Cowboy” is still such an important album to me. Much like The Bouncing Souls‘ “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” and Fugazi‘s “Repeater“, I have to actively limit how often I listen to it so I don’t spoil the magic.

Magpies on the lawn down rose petal roads
It was a liquorice black night
There was a ripe red strawberry moon and I wanted to swallow the whole damn dry lake,
Seas of green and amber waves
I wanted to make it all a part of me
I wanted to take it with me when I have to leave
I wanted to make it all a part of me
I wanted to take it with me when I have to leave

I heard about the new album – Stay Alive – in some random link to a web interview last night.

I was doomscrolling, unable to sleep, having eaten too much trash.

Plus I got “gently reprimanded” yesterday by two different employers for sharing a post about covid-19 on facebook that went a bit viral.

Then my wife got a cough and we found ourselves back in self isolation.

Again.

So I was feeling a bit rubbish.

Give me refuge in your shelter
Give me refuge in your shelter
Give me refuge in your shelter
Give me refuge in your shelter

So I read this interview with Laura Jane where she talked about her experience of lockdown, and as she worded it: “I just wanted to make a record and I wanted to make a record that was the antithesis of a Zoom call. I wanted to record all analog. I didn’t want to make any edits. I wanted to make something that matters from this period of time because all that [stuff] like livestreams … I don’t mean to bash them, but they don’t create anything lasting, you know?

Throw me out like trash when it’s over
Chew me up and spit me out dry
Chew me up and spit me out dry
Coming down the mountain
Coming down the mountain
Coming down the mountain dry

Immediately, I wanted to hear that. Not just because I miss early Against Me, raw, unpolished “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong” rather than the shiny-ness of “New Wave”. But because I so SO resonated with the frustration of endless poor quality livestreams – “this immediate pressure to do livestreams, regardless of if they were good quality. I had an immediate aversion to that“. Initially I thought I disliked them because they were bad quality from an audio perspective, you know? But it wasn’t that. It’s because they were bad quality from a human perspective. I want something that matters.

Lost track of the time
How long have I been here?
Lost track of the time
How many tries have I failed?

“It doesn’t matter what the songs are about, you know? Like it doesn’t [actually] matter,” she says. “It’s just about the act of staying alive. I know I’m alive if I’m playing songs. If I’m recording the songs. If I’m making a record. I don’t want the music industry to die. I don’t want to see bands disappearing. And the only way I know how to fight against that is to play music. Is to record music. Is to keep trying.” It’s about staying alive.

Also, some laughter-and-respect here for a 30 minute music video of Laura reading a book in the bath. Epic. Books in the bath has definitely been part of my lockdown survival. Anyone got any idea what the book is? Looks great.

In the morning I listen to you sing,
It puts the heavens underneath my feet
All the continents divide,
break up and float into the sky
and I remain contained by this body
When the hand comes for me I will not bring with me any need

Most of the songs are stripped back, acoustic, raw voiced. There’s a couple of slightly heavier ones with a bit of distortion and a not-trying-to-pretend-otherwise super basic drum machine track – “SuperNatural Possession” being a particularly hooky one of those. “Hanging Tree” is a standard know-the-cliche anti-America anti-religion US punk song. It’s the only one on the album that made me yawn a little, but when you have the sheer majesty of some of the other lyrics scattered throughout this review, a little cheese is fine.

Is this what you expected?
The total of your want?
In the freedom of motion
Always leaving behind or gone

So, what’s the actual music like? Its good. Even great at points. Alright at points. It kind of super doesn’t matter, you know? She makes a great point. It’s not about perfection, not about changing the whole world. Sometimes its just about fighting to stay alive. Sometimes its just about trying. Like, is this the best review ever? Nope. Was my conversation with my kids at breakfast this morning perfection? Nope. But its better than the alternative. This album, its the most of-this-year thing I’ve heard.

Blood & thunder
South wind coming up Western
Simple as heaven,
Your love is all I need

Some tracks are close to perfection. “Blood & Thunder” is the one I might learn on acoustic. It’s not quite “Sink, Florida, Sink”, but its got a catchiness to it that still appeals, and the liner notes describe it as “a begrudging embrace of what can’t be changed“. Can’t find a better summary of how best to react to 2020 than that. “Ice Cream Song” is also exceptional.

The album cover is a photo of the ashtray she filled just before she gave up smoking weed. Inspiring and depressing at the same time. I feel there’s been a hidden wave noticing that the drugs and alcohol are not always part of the solution – I’m reminded about a great article about anxiety with Laila from Sonic Boom Six, plus Sarah from Shout Louder with her soberbeersnob instagram – but also there are a lot of people feeling like substance abuse is their only option this year. It’s not your only option guys, but I don’t blame you if you feel it is.

Old friend, I’m losing my mind
Watching the days turn into years
Watching the years burn dry
Please stay alive
Please stay alive
Please stay alive
Please survive

I once met Laura in Sheffield, back in 2007ish. I went to their show, and afterwards ran into her in the loading bay out back. I was struck with frustration – I’d ummed and ahhed about bringing along a demo of my own scratchy, acoustic, heartfelt EP to give to them, but had decided against it, only to run into the best singer in punk. I’m glad now I didn’t have the EP -because it was terrible – but I’ve always been sad I didn’t take the moment to say thank you to Laura. I think I stuttered some barely-coherent-fanboy-nonsense-instead-of-attempting-an-actual-human-connection and ran off, but what I meant to say was “Thank you”.

Because your music, your attitude, the sheer bloomin’ poetry of your lyrics? They are like breakfast with my kids. Not always exceptional, not necessarily even always good, but indisputably part of what helps put “the heavens underneath my feet“.

So thank you, Laura Jane Grace. Thanks for helping me stay alive. Also? “As The Eternal Cowboy” is literal music perfection (okay, so maybe a little gushy fanboy nonsense…)

Check out “Stay Alive” on Bandcamp where its about £6

Or you can order a copy of the vinyl from the cool guys at Big Scary Monsters like I did.

If you are having a struggle staying alive at the moment? Drop me a message. It would be an honour to be human with you.

Edit: This article was edited because I accidentally dead-named Laura, which is extremely not cool. I did not realise that was a big no no, so apologies all round, and to Laura especially. For those of you who didn’t know that its not acceptible to use a trans person’s pre-transition name, check out this article on dead-naming.

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