Album review: Laura Jane Grace – Hole In My Head

Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace continues to compel on short, sharp and superb solo record...

Album review: Laura Jane Grace – Hole In My Head
James Hickie

'I won’t learn to feel less,' states Laura Jane Grace on the opening title-track, 102 seconds in which she ponders what life might be like if she didn’t feel things so acutely and transform those experiences into emotive punk rock perfection. Thankfully, it’s not her style. ‘You can try to outrun all the pain you come from / And that would be a real mistake’, she decides. ‘You could learn to feel less, well, that would be a real bore’.

Fans can breathe a collective sigh of relief, as the album on which she makes this conclusion is another excellent one – full of raw reactions and naked reflections – as telegraphed by the album’s artwork, in which her head is pulled apart to reveal a myriad of colourful content. It’s also the best record LJG has made outside of Against Me!, and right up there with the best of the material from the band with which she made her name.

Hole In My Head is a characteristically brisk affair, with its 11 tracks clocking in at just 25 minutes, but overflowing with ideas, insights and the odd barb. ‘They don’t play Red Hot Chili Peppers in places like this’ she declares on Birds Talk Too, which along with the rousing Punk Rock In Basements looks back at formative years producing ‘The sound of revolution that translated into action’, leaving behind an indelible ringing in the ears and the taste of sweat.

It’s evocative stuff, but what makes it more compelling is that it’s delivered by a 43-year-old woman whose tastes can’t be contained by low ceilings, so these observations don’t necessarily arrive with the musical backing you might expect. So, I’m Not A Cop, though dripping with attitude, arrives with Beach Boys-esque doo-wop backing vocals. And while Tacos And Toast is the stuff of a country troubadour, here whisky and a galloping horse is replaced by a car driving ‘90 down the interstate,' fuelled by ‘four shots of espresso’.

Whatever the arrangements, the economy of Laura’s writing remains her greatest gift. She has written about gender dysphoria in great detail before, of course, but on the breezy Dysphoria Hoodie finds an entirely new angle to explore her feelings – casting the titular hooded garment as both comfort blanket and body armour in a world in which scrutiny can crush us.

And there’s the closing track, Give Up The Ghost, on which Laura namechecks The Center Of The Universe, a sound anomaly on a bridge in Tulsa, Oklahoma where a person can stand within a small circle of concrete and remain unheard by anyone stood outside of it, regardless of how loud you shout. It powerfully conveys the idea of speaking only to a higher power, pondering whether or not you’ve exhausted your purpose.

To anyone listening to Hole In My Head, the answer regarding Laura Jane Grace is an unequivocal ‘no’. She continues to wrestle with notions of restlessness and regret, masterfully so, which helps her understand her place in the world – and us to better understand ours. For that, we should be thankful.

Verdict: 4/5

For fans of: Against Me!, The Menzingers, Alkaline Trio

Hole In My Head is released on February 16 via Big Scary Monsters

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