Review: Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties – Routine Maintenance

At its core, Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties is a story about rebirth. Singer and songwriter Dan Campbell’s debut album, We Don’t Have Each Other begins with Aaron breaking down completely after the death of his father, dealing with a miscarriage, and losing his wife. As that album closes, Aaron gives the first glimpse of healing – he is determined to return to his wife in New York. That hope to fix things is what drives the sequel album, Routine Maintenance. Although Campbell could have continued breaking Aaron down, Routine Maintenance vividly explores how Aaron finds meaning in life again and why family is worth fighting for.

You can buy or stream Routine Maintenance on Apple Music.

Dan Campbell, the singer for pop punk wunderkind group The Wonder Years, has built a career off of writing intense, relatable lyrics and stories. Aaron West, his first fictional creation, is a fully formed person. Like its predecessor, Routine Maintenance is essentially a novel set to music. Aaron hitchhikes to Los Angeles (“Bury Me Anywhere Else”), and forms a successful band (“Runnin’ Toward The Light”) in explicit detail. The anxiety of being in a divorce lawyer’s office is especially rich (“Just Sign the Papers”).

However, this Aaron is hopeful. We’ve already seen him broken and homeless. Routine Maintenance shows how Aaron becomes a dependable person again in incremental steps. The tragedies he faces aren’t those within him anymore and he discovers how to step up to meet them.

Much like the previous album and EP, Routine Maintenance relishes in Americana. Comparisons to Bruce Springsteen are impossible not to mention, especially with the bluesy harmonica (“Rosa & Reseda”) and killer saxophone (“Bury Me Anywhere Else”). This album expands the folk rock sound of previous releases with deeper horn sections, slide guitar and a mesmerizing banjo. Ace Enders’ style of production oozes throughout, similar to West’s debut.

Campbell’s vocals are on full display at their best. Although there’s no difference here to how he sings in The Wonder Years, Campbell flexes to express the story. “Just Sign the Papers” shows this perfectly, with an emotional and tortured build up. While the verses mourn his marriage, the choruses burst with shouts of why he loved her. The bridge though, is magical. The first time he whispers, “C-come on, just sign the papers / Don’t make me stay in the room / I don’t want this to be the way I remember you”, he softly croons. As they both sign the divorce papers, Campbell shouts with cracking vocals. The weight of Aaron’s anxiety is part of what makes these albums so real and special.

Routine Maintenance is an album that will give back whatever the listener puts in. New listeners may be lost or have trouble relating to the character. But anyone who has followed Aaron West over the last few years will be familiar with many of the characters and their expanded personalities. Dan Campbell’s live shows, where he takes on West’s persona, greatly amplify how the character builds his music career during the story. Routine Maintenance is fine on its own, but it’s so very much a different beast as a sequel. Wherever Campbell decides to take Aaron after this album, at least there is hope to be found.

4.5/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and heavily relates to Jasper from The Simpsons.

Advertisements

Review: Brian Fallon – Painkillers

Brian-Fallon-1

I watched Brian Fallon play “A Wonderful Life” on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah the other night, and although Trevor’s questions after the song seemed shallow and awkward, Fallon’s performance was anything but. Painkillers, his first solo album, can seem at times slightly off-putting considering how fleshed out The Gaslight Anthem can be. But seeing Brian standing at the mic, the fire in his eyes as he sang, with three other guitarists behind him, it became immediately clear that Painkillers is a work of passion and deeper than what appears on the surface.

You can buy Painkillers on iTunes.

You can buy Painkillers on iTunes.

By “off-putting,” I don’t mean any harm, but rather that on first listen, it sounds like Brian Fallon played it safe: simple beats, xylophone melodies, Americana-esque guitar ballads that tip-toe the line between folk and indie rock. Essentially, The Gaslight Anthem stripped of the heavy guitar.

But Painkillers is an intricately woven fabric. With the essential pop songs, such as “A Wonderful Life”, the songs are created in a fashion that helps the music tell the story with a touch of country-infused pop. The central melody for “Painkillers” is a simple guitar riff that repeats throughout the song as though you’re staring up at the ceiling and watching the room spin in circles as Fallon sings, “And we wanted love like it was a drug / All we wanted was a little relief, and every heart in between / They were painkillers to me”, hiding the chorus of backing vocals and intricate slashes of the guitar.

Similarly, “Smoke” is essentially centered on the crisp beat light taps of the drum, and a swell of hand claps that diminish the guitar and punctuated piano as though lost in a foggy room. The slides of the electric guitar over the hand claps has a wonderful country-esque touch that seems to lift the fog as Fallon sings soberly, “And the black clouds came and darkened all our insides / There were newspaper clippings with horrible headlines / Of doom and despair and your name and my name said / ‘Who will save you from the truth of the matter, that your love, though like gold, is gone?’”

Not everything sounds like an experimental indie song though. “Steve McQueen” is a heartfelt acoustic ballad, with the gentle tap of the snare and egg shaker almost louder than the guitars and somber piano, as Fallon reminisces of faltered dreams. “Open All Night” is a bluesy country song that finds the conclusion of a loose story woven throughout the album of returning to the lights of large cities and the realization that the girl he’s been chasing is gone, for the better of both of them. “And I will never know the town where you finally settled down / With the top back on a Cadillac and your sunglasses on/  And you can’t make me whole, I have to find that on my own”.

“Rosemary”, one of the album’s true highlights and one of the best songs Fallon has ever written, is a rampaging rock song with sweet xylophone spread across the bridges. It is a back and forth story of a couple essentially discovering that they’re falling apart, and lead character Rosemary finding her self worth through the experience amidst garage rock shouts of “Hey! Hey! Hey!”

What Brian Fallon has done with Painkillers is pull off the best aspects of what was accomplished with The Gaslight Anthem and strip it down to a minimum. The guitars are quiet, the beats simple and the lull of the shaker takes precedence over flashy guitar solos. But what it makes room for is emotional storytelling. Anyone used to Gaslight’s rock might need a little coaxing into the softer tone of the album, but the passion on this album is something that couldn’t have been done any other way: Springsteen inspiration blasting at full force.

4.5/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and saw Brian Fallon live for the first time outside of The Gaslight Anthem. He sold out the House of Blues without even having a record out. The man is a talent.