The portion of the beast…
Joshua Copperman: As I’ve been exploring my own identity, every form of queer music, from Anohni to Owen Pallett, has guided me through, though few acts have affected me as much as Against Me!. Laura Jane Grace and I come from very different backgrounds, but the intimate details hidden in her songs for over a decade always resonated with me, whether in the confessional delivery of “Pretty Girls” or a more subtle reference like those in “Tonight We’re Gonna Give It 35%.” Now on her second album since coming out, she gets to present herself from an openly trans perspective instead of writing about suppressing those thoughts (or, in the case of “The Ocean”, saying those thoughts out loud, claiming they were written while high, and otherwise taking the fifth.) It’s telling that the first single from her last album was “FuckMyLife666”, and “333” is half that number. It’s more similar in structure and content to the previous album’s title track than “FML,” but it’s not as angry; instead, Grace has reached something resembling acceptance of herself, willing to be vulnerable and bring along “all the devils that you don’t know” in order to be close with someone again.
Alfred Soto: So compelling is Laura Jane as vocalist that she can imbue any piece of crap with the churn of a woman who thinks through dilemmas as quickly as she can hit the notes. “333” isn’t crap, but it is perfunctory. Earned, I suppose.
Ryo Miyauchi: The punk band play workmanlike, just enough to rally behind Laura Jane Grace, who retreats into a knotty set of words once again. She saves the raw, straightforward dialog for the chorus, where she has always excelled. It’s still a bit too vague to hang anything on — coming from Transgender Dysphoria Blues, at least — but “I wanna be close as I can get to you” is close as she can get to provide me with something to grasp.
Katie Gill: AJJ if they had a bigger budget. I don’t know how I feel about the word salad aspect of the lyrics that seem to ignore things like “meter” and “rhyming”–which hey, I know is a personal preference. Can’t deny that guitar’s sexy as all hell, though. That chorus is also a perfect punk chorus, simple enough that no matter how hammered you are, you’ll be able to jump up and down and scream it out.
Tim de Reuse: There’s a lovely energy here — Laura Jane Grace’s voice still carries the same immediate urgency as it did on Transgender Dysphoria Blues, and the production has grown punchier and deeper but not overcooked to a plasticky Green Day candy shine. The actual songwriting on display, though, is thorny and overgrown, every line stuffed with more syllables than it should have. Though lines like “studying sophisticated nuances of putting holes in your lungs” are charming in their overwrought wordiness, there’s something incredibly unpunk about a tone that only swaps between “vague” and “fatigued.”
Katherine St Asaph: I shoulda realized earlier that Laura Jane Grace was in the Kristin Hersh/John K. Samson school of great musicians who are also masterfully wry lyricists I would read encyclopedia volumes of. (Darnielle would be in this school, probably, if I ever got into his music.) “Perfect weather for a head wound / or studying sophisticated nuances of putting holes in your lungs” is severely perfect. The music is more sedate than I prefer my pop-punk and more polished than I prefer my punk-punk, but those are quibbles.
Brad Shoup: She went and wrote a Sunset Tree-era Mountain Goats song: sturdy and blurty and inclusive of all the listeners and devils alike. There’s the ghost of an “All the Small Things” progression in the chorus: strong glue to bind everyone. This is the kind of no-bullshit pop-punk song I figured Grace would consider too boring, but she’s such a good songwriter — and as this song makes clear, never one for true cynicism — and the arrangement beats back the air.
Claire Biddles: I love Against Me! because they know how to create euphoria from nihilism. Laura Jane Grace announcing that she wants “to fall down some stairs” and “be as close as I can get to you” in the same song is admitting that sometimes the need for self-destruction and human closeness come at the same time. Sometimes we need to raze our lives for their own eventual benefit, but we still need the firm, grounding grip of another person’s fingers to remind us what life is. They’ve touched on this before, from the simultaneous disillusionment and craving for connection on 2007’s “New Wave” to the need for love and community that accompanies huge personal change on 2014’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues. These felt like steps (struggles?) towards self-determination and self-acceptance, but “333” feels like an arrival. It feels like soaring. “333” is Against Me!’s most direct message but it doesn’t feel diluted because of it — there’s purpose and anger and strength, still. I can feel Atom Willard’s drum hits in my forearms and Laura’s voice in my throat. This is Against Me! not aping the anthemic rush of Springsteen, but matching it — maybe even bettering it — and it’s astonishing.