Laura Jane Grace – Hole In My Head

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Laura Jane Grace Hole in My Head review

Punk is dead. That’s what Laura Jane Grace would have us believe, anyway, as she rounds off Hole In My Head’s fifth track, “Punk Rock In Basements,” by expressing the statement verbatim via a calamitous, confident shriek. The rest of the song is a little more mellow than the message that pops up at its conclusion, but it’s still upbeat, cheerful, and summery, with group “woah, woah, woah”-ing and handclaps that make it, appropriately, not really very punk at all. It’s also, perhaps, a little hard to agree with, seeing as just four songs earlier we were treated to the opening title track, which is a bright, brisk, sucker-punch of a tune that’s as angsty and electrifying as punk has ever been. But that’s not the first instance of a contradiction in Grace’s introspective new record, nor will it be the last.

The first couple of songs on Hole In My Head are straightforward, stripped-back punk-rock-‘n’-roll affairs, but the majority of the album is more bare-bones even than that. Most of the tracks feature an acoustic guitar, accompanied often—though not always—by drums played by Grace herself, as well as a bass guitar courtesy of Matt Patton of Drive-By Truckers. The effect of this rudimentary instrumental arrangement is that many of the songs sound almost cutesy—certainly that’s the case with “Tacos And Toast,” whose subtle yet triumphant refrain, “I ain’t got nowhere I gotta be today” makes it a perfect ode to gentle self-indulgence. Even “Dysphoria Hoodie,” whose title indicates a depressing topic, ends up feeling sweet and comforting, as Grace sings the praises of a hoodie she wears “when feeling low and dysphoric and you don’t want the world reading your gender.”

Which is not to say that the album is remotely shorn of any of the darkness that Grace’s lyricism is generally known for. On the contrary, the album digs deep and opens wide, with lyrics exposing anxiety and vulnerability with a kind of matter-of-fact confidence that is consistently impressive and occasionally unsettling. “Keep Your Wheels Straight” details a depressive episode in excruciating detail, whilst “Hard Feelings” is almost comically bleak: “Mother, I’ve ruined my brain / With alcohol, weed, porn, and cocaine,” Grace declares over some nonchalant strumming. “Mercenary” is one of the most complex offerings on the album, a ghostly, plodding track that paints an uncomfortable portrait of someone Grace doesn’t seem entirely sure whether she wants in her life or not. And in each case, the simple, acoustic chord progressions act as a kind of blank canvas for Grace to paint all over with her shockingly emotive, dynamic voice, heightening the intensity behind each and every word.

These sorts of lyrics have poetic merit in and of themselves, but Grace’s greatest achievement on Hole In My Head is to impart the notion that her ability to write with such unerring, toe-curling honesty is dependent upon her willingness to understand the inner machinations of her mind down to every last synaptic firing. There is a potent power in knowing yourself this well; it rises above the anxiety and uncertainty that it illuminates and flows out of the record beautifully, in a way no one song can aptly summarize. Life can be complicated and often painful, Grace seems to say on Hole In My Head, but if strength and optimism are to be found anywhere, it’s in seizing your identity—warts and all—and refusing to shy away from it.

Label: Polyvinyl

Year: 2024

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Laura Jane Grace Hole in My Head review

Laura Jane Grace: Hole in My Head

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