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CD of The Week

Week of 10/05/20

    Laura Jane Grace - Stay Alive (Polyvinyl)

    Against Me!'s Laura Jane Grace likes to work. A prolific musician who has been recording and touring non-stop for two decades, Laura's plans for a new Against Me! album, and anything else in 2020, ground to halt in the spring, for obvious reasons. So it's unsurprising that she used her quarantine downtime to make a new solo album. Stay Alive was recorded entirely on her own with producer Steve Albini, though the two never actually interacted in the studio.

    Since almost the entire record's instrumentation is limited to acoustic guitar, the focus is entirely on Laura's voice and words. However, this isn't entirely a return to the lo-fi raucous "folk-punk" of early Against Me!

    Despite the state of the world, many of these songs are an attempt to reach for positivity, even when "this only feels like the death of everything," as she sings in opener "The Swimming Pool Song." "The Calendar Song" is a rundown of lost opportunities and plans, while trying not to succumb to dwelling on it all. Laura sings, "Waste your days counting what you've got left / What you should have had and what you'll never get back / Only a fool would live their life like that."

    "Shelter in Place" was shockingly written nearly two years ago, while Laura was recovering from surgery, and not after it became an everyday phrase. In fact, she's said these songs were all written pre-lockdown, despite their timeliness. "Hanging Tree" is the most politically of-its-time track on Stay Alive, opening with a lyric about "babies born into apocalypse" and the none-too-subtle "You're tweet-tweet-tweeting from a golden tower / Ain't got no soul to sell and that's your power"

    Stay Alive's recording is so sparse, it's almost a surprise to hear an overdubbed counter-vocal on "The Magic Point." The electric guitar and drum machines crank up for "SuperNatural Possession," the closest thing to her 2008 solo EP Heart Burns. "So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, F**k Off" is a fuzzed-out, odd duck here, produced to sound like a bootlegged Ramones live track.

    Stay Alive gets its title and its thesis from album closer "Old Friend (Stay Alive)." A plaintive plea to make it through these dark times, this honest appeal to the listener, herself and possibly even society itself, it ends with "Old friend, I'm losing my mind / Watching the days burn into years / Watching the years burn dry / Please stay alive / Please survive." An apt goal to strive for here in 2020.
    Review by Joey O.

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