The lockdown album is set to be a major trope over the next 18 months, as musicians, songwriters, and producers allow their quarantined status to become the focal point of their creativity.
In this respect Laura Jane Grace is an early adopter – with the pandemic shattering her 2020 plans, the one-time Against Me! vocalist found that her band was locked down in various locations across North America. Undeterred, she decided to book four days in Steve Albini’s Electric Audio studios, crafting a solo album that is marked by urgency in the process.
Given a surprise release, ‘Stay Alive’ has a sense of quiet intensity running across its 13 tracks, material that uses points of inspiration gathered across the previous two year international tour. There’s a real vitality to the work, from the bare bones recording style so evocative of Albini’s work through to Laura’s powerful, trenchant vocals, erupting out of the speakers.
Everything on ‘Stay Alive’ is cut right down to the bare essentials, the music seeming to match the methodology of survival. Opener ‘The Swimming Pool Song’ is a sub two minute miniature, while the rattling chords that underpin ‘Shelter In Place’ recall The Clash at their most primitive.
A record dominated by clarity of thought, ‘Stay Alive’ taps into the chaos of 2020 while offering a route map back out. ‘Hanging Tree’ contains stark references to lynching, while ‘Please Leave’ wants to jettison the negative forces strangling America.
As ever with Laura Jane Grace, these caustic truths are wrapped in elements of humour, and surreal poetry. ‘The Magic Point’ puts us in mind of D Boon’s spiels, while ‘So Long, Farewell, Auf Weidersehen, Fuck Off’ is hysterical from the title down.
Ending with the unabashed plea for empathy that drives ‘Old Friend (Stay Alive)’, this is a record that revels in our commonality, a project that thrives on humanity. Postcards from the dystopia, it’s less an album and more a series of polaroids, each song stapled down to the tape before Laura Jane Grace moves on, and on, and on.
Words: Robin Murray
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