Another outlet for Grace to free her mind.
Laura Jane Grace seems to yearn for a clean slate. In her band Against Me!’s previous record, Shape Shift with Me, she wrote about relationships on the brink of collapse or already in ruins, with broken souls trying to salvage anything from the wreckage. Her music served a bigger responsibility after punk document Transgender Dysphoria Blues, about her coming out as a trans woman. The material that comprises her new album Bought to Rot finds Grace relieved to find another outlet to free her mind.
Grace considers her music with the Devouring Mothers as a creative retreat from her main band, though the album isn’t a complete musical departure. If anything, it centers her from the stiff post-punk of Shape Shift with Me back into her roots of more acoustic-driven rock. Her verses yet again put human relationships under the microscope, closely examining them to figure out why they implode the way they do. She exhumes a set of private, emotional pains just as dark as on any Against Me! record, and channels them into raw choruses that hit directly in the gut.
However, here Grace writes more candidly than in her other work. As the demo state of such tracks as “The Friendship Song” or “The Apology Song” suggests, her songs unfold like an idea jotted down in the moment to perhaps polish later. “The Airplane Song” goes on like a train of thought inspired by a casual observation during a flight, which she wraps up hurriedly as if she caught herself derailing too far. Her half-finished conclusion — “What do pleasures of flesh mean anyway/ We’re all growing old, all in decay” — would have stuck a more graceful landing with Against Me!, though her decision to of leave it as such brings its own stylistic charm.
She gets more self-indulgent elsewhere, tapping into more personal places, and her looser approach to lyrical structure makes those few songs feel as though they are about to fall apart at the seams. “Manic Depression” is particularly tough emotionally, as she zeroes in on a mental breakdown. Grace sometimes disregards melody in Bought to Rot to prioritize getting out a urgent block of thought, and the run-on flow at which at they come out in “Manic Depression” only deepens the sense of mental agony.
Some songs feel nakedly autobiographical thanks to tangible settings, like the lonely hotel bed of “Amsterdam Hotel Room,” a likely detail in the life of a touring musician. The album often resembles a travelogue, whether the self-explanatory “I Hate Chicago” or “The Acid Test Song” about a Catholic girl she met in Montreal.
The chorus of “The Hotel Song” outlines the nature of living out of a suitcase: “Always keep dropping what you don’t need/ And be going before love becomes disappointing.” The best songs on Bought to Rot manage to find some light out of that dark lifestyle. Grace’s unique turn of phrase flatters the one-of-a-kind encounter in “Reality Bites.” And a relationship celebrated in “Apocalypse Now (& Later)” sounds like a rare gem, with the hook dedicated to her precious partner triumphantly rising out of the rubble. While the victories of Bought to Rot are more specific to Grace and her own life, no matter which band she’s in, she sounds more open to singing about them with the Devouring Mothers.