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Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers - Bought To Rot (Album Review)

Thursday, 22 November 2018 Written by Laura Johnson

‘Bought To Rot’ is not an Against Me! Record. Repeat: ‘Bought To Rot’ is not an Against Me! record. Laura Jane Grace might be among friends on her first album with the Devouring Mothers—the roll call does feature drummer Atom Willard and engineer Marc Jacob Hudson, both holdovers from her day job—but the focus is very different.

Walking into the studio she had no expectations of creating a cohesive collection of tracks from the same mould as previous releases. In fact, she wanted to make her version of a mixtape, with each song serving as a postcard from a certain time and place. Apocalypse Now (& Later), for example, was penned in Perth, Australia on Against Me! guitarist James Bowman's birthday and, fittingly, he rips a solo on the track.

A song with a title like Amsterdam Hotel Room, meanwhile, would appear to speak for itself—in fact its thought process bounces around like a touring musician’s, slipping past the shades in the titular space to ponder a grave in west London’s Brompton cemetery.

“Curtains drawn, blinds down, covers pulled tight up over my head,” Grace sings. “I can’t see out and nobody can see in, and I don’t know where the party is but I know how it ends.”

Apocalypse Now (& Later) is also one of several moments here that proves, even with the best intentions, it’s impossible to completely cut loose past artistic achievements. It recalls early Against Me!, more specifically the stripped back intensity found on the final three tracks of 2003’s ‘As The Eternal Cowboy’, while the closer, The Apology Song, also echoes the same period and some of the remorseful sentiments found on Cavalier Eternal. Look for further evidence of Grace’s steady gig beyond these subtle nods, though, and you’ll find yourself digging for something that’s just not there—struggling to push a Devouring Mothers peg into an Against Me!-shaped hole.

That’s both a positive and a negative. Although Grace is clearly having fun with changing things up, opting for the mixtape approach has resulted in a disconcertingly disjointed listen for those used to hearing her voice housed in an album format. The rousing opener China Beach, where she advises us to “always welcome failure” and that “doubt is the enemy”, writes a cheque that the latter half of ‘Bought To Rot’ can’t cash.

Its stylistic grab bag features forays into bruising rock on Born In Black and blues influences on Amsterdam Hotel and Manic Depression, while The Friendship Song is Crazy Little Thing Called Love gone folk-punk. I Hate Chicago finds Grace in a playful mood as she channels an acknowledged influence with a lyric and performance that brings to mind the Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle. Screamy Dreamy is the wild card, though, and in an atypical move sees Grace pulling back her vocals to provide contrast with jagged guitars and heavy bursts from Willard, whose drumming is breathtaking.

On ‘Bought To Rot’, Grace and band have succeeded in crafting a collection that provides snapshots of their diverse range of influences and skills. Its 14 tracks amount to a meandering story told by a whirlwind of a friend—you may not be completely enthralled at every twist and turn, but you’re willing to find out where they’re going with it.

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