Ever since she came out as a transgender woman in 2012, there’s been a decipherable freedom and frankness in the work that Laura Jane Grace has released since. Her debut album with her new side project, Bought to Rot feels like another chapter in her journey towards a more complete embrace of her true self. At 37, she’s still trying to make sense of things and she doesn’t purport that she’ll one day have it all figured out. She boldly accepts that life is an unremitting learning process and not some place where you emerge with all the tools to maneuver around obstacles or with a self-image or sexuality that ever reaches its destination.
Bought To Rot features Against Me! drummer Atom Willard and bassist Marc Jacob Hudson and though it’s not the biggest musical reinvention possible, the album taps into pop and alternative rock almost as much as it does punk. Songs like “Reality Bites” and “The Airplane Song” border on power-pop, “China Beach” sounds Nirvana-esque and “Apocalypse Now (& Later)” is almost folk-like. According to Grace, Bought To Rot was inspired by one of Grace’s biggest heroes, Tom Petty and though that doesn’t obviously come across, the pair both write with plucky transparency and both embody an accessible character that the masses identify with.
Grace still uses occasional mythical metaphors, but more often than not, she’s a fearless straight-shooter. She says what she wants and makes no bones about it. The opening lines of Bought To Rot immediately divulge her motives, philosophy and headstrong mentality (“Learn to trust yourself, no one else matters / Respect the source and always welcome failure”). On “China Beach,” she feels trapped and professes, “Doubt is the enemy” while “I Hate Chicago” is a vengeful, funny takedown of the city before she lets it slip that her hatred derives from an association with an ex and Chicago. There are also tracks that could’ve easily been Against Me! songs. “Born in Black,” is a seething punk take on existentialism and mortality and though it might not be about trashing hotels, “Amsterdam Hotel Room” is embellished with an untouchable, outsider spirit. Similarly, “Apocalypse Now (& Later)” is a holistic embrace of another person—flaws and all—with a fleeting, us-against-the-world joy that’s difficult for any musician to muster without sounding cheesy.
On the seductive, intrepid, “Valeria Golino,” she proclaims with defiance, “Your perception is not my purpose” and on the album closer, “The Apology Song,” she sounds as mature and clear-headed as ever for what feels like an anthemic, uplifting pinnacle. Though it’s a blatant apology addressed to a past lover, she’s not even slightly bitter—electing to part ways on the best of terms with such, well, grace (“Want you to ride easy, rest assured / You’re always more than enough no matter what you’ve got”).
Grace doesn’t graduate from punk on Bought To Rot—she expands and elevates it with explicit revelations, fervent melodies, head-banging chord progressions and unruffled tenacity.