Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers - Bought to Rot (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers

Bought to Rot (2018)


One of the many things that Laura Jane Grace said about Bought to Rot on Twitter was that Tom Petty, particularly his album Full Moon Fever, was a major influence on this album. So I expected a largely Tom Petty influenced album from Laura Jane Grace, which I was certainly interested to hear. But while the Tom Petty influence is definitely there—especially in the cleaner, less distorted guitars compared to Against Me!, and the stripped down, roots rock, bluesy elements to the album—Tom Petty’s influence is definitely not the only thing going on on this album. There’s the opener “China Beach,” for example, which sounds like something off of The Clash’s Combat Rock but with more hardcore-style vocals, or “Sleepy Dreamy” which is basically a midwestern emo song. With so many different things going on with the album, I wasn’t sure that a week would be enough time to wrap my head around it all.

However, after a few more listens I started to realize Bought to Rot is an excellent album. I had a little trouble accepting the need for this to be a side project at first. While the roots rock and bluesy style of Bought to Rot is outside of what Against Me! normally does, who says it has to be? Against Me! is one of the most eclectic bands in punk, with their first album and their most recent album being so far apart as to almost sound like different bands. In fact, their last album, Shape Shift With Me, toyed around with blues riffs on “Suicide Bomber.” So I can see why this is different enough that it was spun off into a side project, but at the same time, if Laura Jane Grace had decided to make this an Against Me! album, I don’t think that would have been the most absurd thing in the world.

The aforementioned “Sleepy Dreamy” is probably my favorite track on the album. Like I said, it’s a midwestern emo song that alternates between quiet, dream-like music and sudden bursts into a gorgeous cacophony of noise. A close second on the album has to be the first single which was released all the way back at the end of the summer, “Apocalypse Now (& Later),” a jangly guitar tune with a stripped down pop style. But the more I listen to it, the more favorite tracks I find, as this album slowly unfolds on multiple listens. “I Hate Chicago” is one that I had mixed feelings about at first because, while I too have been known to say that I hate Chicago (although my most recent visit there in August has changed my mind a little), I was left wondering if such a petty song really fit in with the rest of the album. But “I Hate Chicago” has won me over because, like Grace says, it’s a divorce song. As anyone who has read Grace’s autobiography knows, she only lives in Chicago to be near her ex-wife and maintain joint custody of their daughter, so it’s understandable that she feels trapped in Chicago. Knowing that adds another layer to an otherwise silly little hate anthem. On this track, as with others on the album, Grace pulls a little bit from one of her other heroes, Bob Dylan, as she alternates between singing and spoken lines that shove too many syllables into the line at once, something I once thought only Dylan could pull off, but which Grace manages to do perfectly.

Some of the bluesier tunes on the album really show Laura Jane Grace expanding beyond what we’ve seen from her in Against Me! “Manic Depression” is the most straight up blues-rocker, and Grace tackles mental health with great courage and strength while summoning the ghosts of blues past in a truly epic song. “The Acid Test Song” has a beautiful bluesy vibe that could have come straight out of a Dylan album in the 1960’s. It’s a danceable, fun, joyful song, even with its somewhat melancholy lyrics. “Amsterdam Hotel Room” is a blues rock song with the emphasis on the rock that bristles with energy and excitement all the way through.

Bought to Rot demonstrates that Laura Jane Grace is a master of all styles and, with all of her diverse influences, can do a lot of different things well. After all, this is the woman who talks on Twitter about working out to Fugazi, cites Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Madonna as major influences, appeared on a grindcore album earlier this year, and can be seen on YouTube with Miley Cyrus and Joan Jett covering The Replacements. Grace’s eclectic influences are a big part of why Against Me! works so well and continues to put out one excellent album after another, but Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers is a project that gives Grace the freedom to explore her influences outside of the punk realm in more depth, while still keeping herself anchored to punk rock. Bought to Rot is an exploration and an experiment, but a highly successful one that manages to come together as a coherent whole to really deliver something special.