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Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace takes a thrilling detour with new band, new album

Laura Jane Grace performing at Riot Fest in Douglas Park on Sept. 11, 2015.

Laura Jane Grace performing at Riot Fest in Douglas Park on Sept. 11, 2015. | Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times

The words just tumble out from Laura Jane Grace on her new album, “Bought to Rot” (Bloodshot Records). They form a torrent of thoughts, observations and memories from one of rock’s most charismatic figures.

The Against Me! singer and guitarist — who’s from Chicago but makes clear here she has little love for the city — has taken a break from her superb punk band to explore glam-rock terrain with her side project Laura Jane Grace & the Devouring Mothers.

Her lyrics are barely contained by the structure of the songs, bellowed one moment or stretched into sing-talk poetry. One song, “Manic Depression,” has 250 words. Another has 240, and a third has 230.

“Bought to Rot” is less heavy than Against Me! offerings, with some songs that easily could fit on mainstream alt-rock radio. It’s also less angry, more theatrical and more surreal. It’s a dizzying, sometimes hysterical, sometimes heartbreaking but always deeply personal album.

It kicks off with the claustrophobic “China Beach,” with Grace seemingly jarred awake and confused. “Are you my enemy and are we at war?” she asks. “Are you the hunter? Am I the prey?”

Grace, whose life and career changed dramatically when she came out as a transgender woman in 2012, has teamed in the new band with Against Me! drummer Atom Willard and Against Me! producer Marc Jacob Hudson on bass.

The album’s lyrics explore everything from love gone bad to mental illness, with a sense of rootlessness throughout — two songs have Grace in hotels and one in an airplane.”

Then, there’s “I Hate Chicago,” an expletive-laced stew of angst toward the city, with Grace complaining about everything in her hometown from the food (“Learn how to make a pizza”) to sports (“I hate the Cubs, the Sox, the Blackhawks and the Bulls”) to its citizens (“You and all your self-righteous hipster hoods can go to hell.”) It’s seething, frenetic and wildly funny.

Other standouts include the R.E.M.-reminiscent “Apocalypse Now (& Later),” the Lou Reed-ish tunes “Amsterdam Hotel Room” and “Manic Depression” and the David Bowie-adjacent “Screamy Dreamy.”

There’s electricity in every song and an abrasive unpredictability.

Laura Jane Grace & the Devouring Mothers have two upcoming performances in Chicago: a sold-out show Sunday at the Cobra Lounge and an all-ages show at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 29 at Lincoln Hall.

"Bought to Rot" by Laura Jane Grace & the Devouring Mothers.

“Bought to Rot” by Laura Jane Grace & the Devouring Mothers. | Bloodshot Records


• Rocker Laura Jane Grace samples Chicago neighborhoods, picks favorite, Aug. 28, 2017

Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers.

Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers. | Provided photo