Laura Jane Grace 2024
Photo: Bella Peterson

Laura Jane Grace Brings Great Songs to ‘Hole in My Head’

Hole in My Head is full of good songs, and Laura Jane Grace is an excellent songwriter with intriguing lyrical turns of phrase and an ear for catchy melodies.

Hole in My Head
Laura Jane Grace
16 February 2024

Laura Jane Grace‘s latest album, Hole in My Head, features the same mixture of acoustic troubadour songs and more sonically filled-out tracks that her previous record, Stay Alive, and EP, At War With the Silverfish, did. Like those two releases, some material works much better than others. Unlike those two records, Grace doesn’t benefit from COVID-era isolation to explain why the would-be full-band songs don’t feature a full group.

The songs are mainly successful when she goes with the acoustic folk-punk style. The third track, “Dysphoria Hoodie”, is the first example. She sings about spending the day in an Adidas-branded hoodie and how it offers psychological protection. Lyrically, it’s a unique point of view that discusses how gender dysphoria issues don’t just disappear once an individual transitions. The beginning of verse two lays out the feeling of isolation: “Stay away from the city, it’s full of assholes / But out in the country is where fascists roam / Plenty of reasons to fear when you don’t fit the mold.” Musically, the song features distinct verses and choruses, and Grace isn’t completely locked into a tempo. It slows down a bit for the chorus but also ebbs and flows, feeling elastic within sections.

The easygoing “Cuffing Season” and “Tacos and Toast” work wonderfully. “Cuffing Season” is sprightly, with simple, brightly strummed guitar chords. Laura Jane Grace’s vocals are energetic and even feature a bit of her old trademark style, where she squeezes way too many words into a single line. She ends the song on a minor chord, the only one in the song, which is an exciting use of tension. This tension is resolved at the beginning of “Tacos and Toast,” which has a slow cowboy lope. Grace recounts a slow day with no agenda before declaring, “I ain’t got nowhere I gotta be today / I think I’ll get a line tattooed through your name.” Turns out the agenda is getting over a failed relationship.

As the album enters its last chunk, “Mercenary” tries something a little different. Drive-By Truckers bassist Matt Patton appears on several songs on Hole in My Head, but this may be his best. Grace strums simple chords while Patton joins in, adding not just the low end but significant color to the song. It’s mid-tempo and minor key, with a catchy chorus where Grace declares, “If there’s money on the table you can take it and leave / If there’s a seat in the car, no one rides for free.” Lyrically, the song is a little more abstract than much of Grace’s highly specific catalog, and it’s nice to have something not so clearly laid out. The track also uses backing vocals, which are whispered and sung in just the right places. It also has a tambourine and snare drum, pushing the beat along very effectively.

Sadly, this is not true for some more fully arranged songs. Hole in My Head opens with the title track, a high-powered rocker. “Hole in My Head” superficially has a ton of energy, with an excellent vocal performance from Laura Jane Grace, shouted backing vocals, and Patton throwing in a little verve to his basslines. Upon subsequent listens, it becomes clear how rudimentary the guitar playing is and how the drums remain static throughout. Grace is credited with the drums on the album, and as a drummer, she’s… a great songwriter.

The chunky “I’m Not a Cop” is fun, with a bit of 1950s rock shuffle. Patton’s walking bassline lurks in the background, giving the track a nice bounce. “Birds Talk Too” is a pop-punk track emphasizing the pop. Grace is back to her classic throat-shredding howl style of vocals here, adding a lot of grit to her melodies. The guitar line comes close to a riff instead of just simple chords, but once again, the drums are static throughout.

“Punk Rock in Basements” is a charming bit of nostalgia, with Grace reflecting on her younger days. Once again, it’s a simple distorted guitar line with Patton getting creative on the bass. Percussion-wise, it’s mostly tambourine and handclaps, which keeps the song firmly on folk-rock grounds.

Laura Jane Grace closes out Hole in My Head with three acoustic songs in a row. “Keeping the Faith” is a sad ballad about hoping for better but being resigned to the worst. “Hard Feelings” is more upbeat musically, with energetically strummed guitar. On the other hand, the chorus of the track finds Grace lamenting, “Mother mother mother, I’ve ruined my brain / With alcohol, weed, porn, and cocaine.” The mid-tempo, melancholy “Give Up the Ghost” finishes the LP with Grace returning to a familiar topic, muscling through life despite being ill-equipped to do so. However, “I think that it’s time that I give up the ghost” wonders about just giving up for good.

Hole in My Head is full of good songs, and Grace remains an excellent songwriter with interesting lyrical turns of phrase and an ear for catchy melodies. She’s almost entirely successful when she arranges those songs for acoustic guitar and sometimes lets Patton fill out the sound on bass.

Laura Jane Grace was the songwriter and lead vocalist of Against Me! for 20 years, and as such, everything she does sounds at least somewhat like Against Me! While the band never officially broke up, they’ve been on indefinite hiatus for years. It’s hard not to imagine what these rock songs would sound like with an accomplished drummer and a lead guitarist filling out the sound. As such, they end up sounding sort of like Against Me! home demos where a really good bassist just happened to be on hand.

RATING 6 / 10