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.

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Review: Clear Eyes Fanzine – Season One, Episodes 1-6

I’ve never seen “Friday Night Lights”, movie or television series, but I constantly hear about how great of a series it is. The evidence is clearly mounting after the creation of Clear Eyes Fanzine, a side project from Dan Campbell of The Wonder Years and Ace Enders of The Early November. Season One, Episodes 1-6 is exactly what it sounds like. Both Ace and Dan provide three songs inspired by each episode. It’s a great concept that has created some of the most intense, provoking and emotionally wrenching songs either songwriter has ever written.

You can buy Season One, Episodes 1-6 on Bandcamp.

The main takeaway from SO, E1-6 is how much these songs sound like Campbell and Enders. The first three tracks, written by Campbell are basically tracks from Aaron West & The Roaring Twenties. The second half of the record is Enders prominently displaying his penchant for atmospheric minimalism that his I Can Make a Mess project has perfected. There aren’t any surprises, just damn good songs.

Campbell’s side of the record focuses on physical ailments and trauma. Whether that be physical exhaustion and determination from “On Tim Riggins as He Prepares for His Sophomore Year” (“I puked through my mask / And the smell never fucking leaves”), or brain trauma of CTE from “Coming Up for Air” (“I don’t talk about the headaches / I don’t talk about the nights when I forget where we are”), Campbell’s descriptions of the damage from playing football are brutal and unforgiving. It’s also some of his best work to date.

Enders, taking the back half, focuses much more on the emotional toll of the characters. His songs are ethereal and soft, feeding the energy of emotional drama. “Good Get Coach” begins with whispers and Enders harmonizing with himself before exploding with a chorus of, “Another rivalry begins, watching you watching him / I wish that I could let myself just let it all out”. Meanwhile, “The Fields” explores a back and forth conversation between characters. Enders sings, “I hate that they get applauded / It’s just a stupid game / In 15 years, that varsity jacket just won’t wear the same”, before the chorus kicks in with a differing viewpoint: “In the field, we fight for our tiny lives / It tore my father down, cuz nobody gets out”.

Clear Eyes Fanzine is fun, emotionally draining and comes from two songwriters who love “Friday Night Lights”. While each artist’s songs are incredible, the wasted opportunity for the two to share a song together is astounding. However, there’s always hope for the next few episodes. As a whole piece, the EP is an emotionally gripping exercise in writing.

4/5

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 HAS TOO MUCH TELEVISION!!! There is so much to watch, and not enough time to learn how to make wicker baskets.

 

Most Anticipated of 2019: #2 Aaron West Roars into 2019

We Don’t Have Each Other was one of the best albums of 2014, and one of the most unique albums of the last decade. With only a handful of songs released over the last four-and-a-half years to keep the story of Aaron West moving, a second album is long overdue. Fortunately, it’s looking to be coming sooner than later.

With a steady touring schedule and The Wonder Years in between album releases, it’s an ideal time for Aaron West to grab the spotlight. Also, the official Aaron West Twitter account claimed Dan Campbell to have been in the studio as recently as November 2018. With over four years since their last release, there is a plethora of story for Campbell to cover and room for the character of Aaron to grow.

If the band’s second album can even remotely come close to the intensity of the first album, it will already be a contender for album of the year.

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 could not be more excited for new music to tickle his ears in 2019.

Podcast: The Best Music of 2018

Part 1

As 2018 comes to a close, the team at It’s All Dead have crunched the numbers and compiled their lists of the best albums and best songs of the year. On this podcast, Kiel Hauck is joined by Nadia Paiva to break down some of the year’s best music, including releases from Pianos Become the Teeth, The 1975, The Wonder Years, mewithoutYou, and much more. They also discuss what made music great in 2018 – both in terms of commentary and in terms of escape. Listen in!

Part 2

But wait, there’s more! On part 2 of our Best of 2018 podcast, Kiel Hauck is joined by It’s All Dead senior editor Kyle Schultz to talk further about the year in music. The two discuss the merits of Fall Out Boy’s return with MANIA and how Brendon Urie of Panic! at the Disco ascended to new heights with Pray for the Wicked. They also break down releases from Architects, Justin Courney Pierre, Pusha T, and As It Is. Listen in!

Subscribe to our podcast here.

What were your favorite albums and songs of 2018? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Podcast: The Wonder Years Strike Again

On our latest podcast, Kiel Hauck and Kyle Schultz are joined by It’s All Dead writer Nadia Paiva to discuss the latest release from The Wonder Years. During the discussion, the trio debate the merits of Sister Cities and dialogue about where the album lands among the band’s best releases. They also share their favorite songs from the album and talk about the band’s knack for human stories and connecting with listeners. Listen in!

Subscribe to our podcast here.

What was your favorite song on Sister Cities? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: The Wonder Years – Sister Cities

One evening, I returned home from my mundane office job to find a postcard in my mailbox. I analyzed it and thought about it for an hour or two, employing the opinions of friends on what it could mean. It had a line drawing of a dog on the front and a simple message on the back: “I’m laying low / A stray dog in the street / You took me home / We’re sister cities”. I pulled back a post office label to find the logos for both Hopeless Records and Loneliest Place On Earth. The Wonder Years were back.

You can buy Sister Cities on Apple Music.

A day or two later, the band tweeted a link with an album title, release date, and single. Needless to say, their hype worked. I’ve been a huge fan of The Wonder Years for what seems like forever, and No Closer to Heaven came just when I needed it to when it released in 2014. Given my growing affection for the band, it was natural to highly anticipate what they’d do next.

Surprisingly, Sister Cities abandons much of what made The Wonder Years’ brand of pop punk so recognizable, while still managing to remain true to the band’s heart. The subtle changes are felt from the moment the album begins. The first track, “Raining in Kyoto”, is abrupt and not what I expected. I figured they’d put “Pyramids of Salt” (the second single) as the opener because of how they built up the energy. Instead, it’s track two.

In contrast to their previous releases, Sister Cities doesn’t seem to have a cohesive theme or sonic continuity. From what I understand, the album was written while the band was on tour and I think that’s the reason every track is a different experience, as well as lyrically alluding to visiting new places and seeing new things. Despite the missing aspect of “let’s get out of this town”, Sister Cities is still decidedly The Wonder Years.

I’m impressed with Dan Campbell’s vocal style on this album. I think his side project, Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties, has really helped him tap into the softer, more melodic side of his vocals rather than just the rough punk sound so associated with their past work. Musically, it’s about what we’ve grown accustomed to hearing from The Wonder Years: powerful, guitar-based punk with strong drums and soaring vocals.

Two stand-out tracks for me come right in the middle of the album. “Flowers Where Your Face Should Be” and “Heaven’s Gate (Sad and Sober)” show both sides of the band. The former is an example of growth – a song about love through the hard times that is stylistically different from anything the band has done before. It reminds me the most of Aaron West. The latter track, however, is classic Wonder Years. It feels the most like their past and is almost a reassurance to listeners, implying, “Hey, we’re artists who’ve grown, but we’re still the band you fell in love with”.

It’s obvious that The Wonder Years have grown a lot as a band over the years, and I think it’s a combination of both life experience and band experience. With Sister Cities, specifically, it’s obvious that their travels impacted their writing and opened up a new direction to pursue. I’m always a fan of band growth, and that’s something The Wonder Years really deal well with. They never change so much that they lose fans, but they change enough to keep things fresh.

That’s what Sister Cities is. It’s new and exciting and covers ground that Soupy and the guys have never walked on before, but it still feels familiar, from the first track right through to the end.

Sister Cities closes with an outstanding final track. The band always manages to tie up their albums perfectly and “The Ocean Grew Hands to Hold Me” is no exception. Just the title alone is beautiful, but the final lines are what really got me: “When the sutures start to split / I trust the current to pull you back in / I miss everyone at once / But most of all, I miss the ocean”. The ocean holds a special place in my heart, and after the (seemingly) endless winter we’ve had, I’m ready to go sit in the sand and reflect on some things.

The Wonder Years have always known exactly how to voice dealing with loss and grief and I think that’s why so many people are drawn to the art they create. There’s not a person on earth who won’t experience these feelings, if they haven’t already. Where No Closer to Heaven dealt with anger and blame, Sister Cities focuses on sorrow, feelings of abandonment, and how we eventually find the strength to move along. We always remember the things we’ve lost, but there’s a point where we find a way out and get back to the ocean. I think I’m at that point, personally, and The Wonder Years have simply come up alongside me to help with the healing.

4.5/5

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

The Wonder Years Release New Song, “Sister Cities”

It’s finally here! After coyly announcing their new album, Sister Cities, last week, The Wonder Years have now released the album’s first single, which also happens to be the title track. You can watch the music video for “Sister Cities” below, which was directed by Josh Coll.

The new track certainly treads new sonic ground for The Wonder Years and will be fascinating to hear fleshed out over the course of a full album. Fortunately, we won’t have to wait long to hear more. Sister Cities is set to be released April 6 via Hopeless Records. You can currently choose from multiple pre-order options on the band’s website.

What are your thoughts on the new song? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Finding Solace in the Music of The Wonder Years

While the chill of winter may still be far from over, we can trust that the sweet dawn of spring will come with new music from The Wonder Years. Last week, the Lansdale, Pennsylvania, pop punk act announced the release of their upcoming album, Sister Cities, on April 6. I have yet to watch the new trailer the band released to promote the album, nor do I have intent to do so.

That’s not to say I have no interest in new music from The Wonder Years, it’s just that their music carries an intense kind of baggage for me, something I only fully realized while spinning my vinyl copy of The Greatest Generation this weekend. I’ve long believed that The Wonder Years’ albums should be listened to in full, from front to back in one sitting, but there’s a bit more to it than that.

“I don’t have roses in the closet / But I’ve got pictures in a drawer / And it’s everything left in me not to stare at them anymore”

I was aware of The Wonder Years amidst their 2010 breakout with The Upsides, but didn’t dig in deep with the band until the following year, with the release of Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing. That album came fresh on the heels of my divorce and brought a mean kind of comfort. I’d venture to say that I’ve only felt such a deep, personal connection with an album a handful of times in my life.

So vivid are my early memories with this album that I can remember every moment of the night-time car ride I took with Suburbia on the evening I purchased it. I can still remember the click of my turn signal while sitting at a stoplight on Bardstown Road in Louisville, Kentucky, dead inside, as the first verse of “My Life as a Pigeon” tore through my soul.

Everyone who knows me knows about my hyperbolic habits, and yes, I believe Suburbia to be one of the best pop punk albums ever written, but it’s more than that to me. It’s the story of a year I spent as a ghost, not sure where home was anymore. It’s the soundtrack to an upheaval of my life, and how I slowly, painfully, wonderfully found the ground again.

“I’ve been acting like I’m strong / But the truth is, I’ve been losing ground”

It wouldn’t take long for Dan Campbell and crew to cross paths with me again. Their next album, The Greatest Generation drove headlong into my continued fight with depression, made even more bitter by my mother’s unexpected battle with cancer. Like it was yesterday, I can remember the tears streaming down my face as I sat quietly at my desk at work with “Dismantling Summer” playing through my headphones.

Alone, in a room full of people, hundreds of miles away from my mom in a hospital bed, Soupy’s cries of, “What kind of man does that make me?” still haunt me to the core. My mom would go on to make a full recovery from her cancer. I’m still working on my depression, but The Greatest Generation is a blunt reminder of another period of my life in which The Wonder Years sang the songs and questions of my heart.

I’m writing this partly for therapeutic reasons and partly as a continuing examination of the role of music in my life. I’m eternally grateful for the music of The Wonder Years, even if I can only revisit it infrequently. What makes the music we love truly great? The songs we play relentlessly, finding repeated joy in the moment, or the songs we return to carefully and cautiously, knowing the ache attached within? In my experience, it’s a little bit of both.

I’m excited about what new sounds Sister Cities will bring, but content with the idea that the band’s music has done enough for me already. I have no deep expectations, other than the hope that this new album will provide a similar salve for someone else.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Review: The Wonder Years – Burst & Decay

For many people, myself included, it is hard to buck the idea that The Wonder Years are a positive band. After the release of The Upsides, there is always that part of me that will juxtapose anything they release with the immortal line of “I’m not sad anymore”. Even as the band has matured and their music drifted away from youthful optimism, I still see them as one of the most earnest bands out there. But their songs always felt grounded in the stories each album told. Burst & Decay, the band’s new acoustic EP, is an exercise in reinvigorating their material so much so that it’s hard not to see those same optimistic boys that set the scene aflame with positivity.

You can buy Burst & Decay on iTunes.

Burst & Decay is a delicate interpretation of songs throughout their catalog. Tempo changes, keyboards, and crooning vocals are the most prominent changes from the original punk rock. However, that is enough to revamp these songs entirely into their own message. The softer songs build to crescendos that the original songs lacked. When vocalist Dan Campbell shifts from a croon to all-out shouts, the message carries stronger and more prominently than the original songs were able to.

“There, There”, which reflects on one’s own faults, becomes a slow-built song of defiance. “Cardinals”, a song of regret over letting down a friend, becomes a moment of somber reflection and a loving war cry.

It’s not as though these songs are fundamentally different by any means. The melodic violin, soft drumming and acoustic strums of “Cardinals” sits alongside Dan Campbell’s whispery vocals in perfect meditation. There is a build throughout so that in the final verse, when Campbell explodes and shouts the lyrics, it fundamentally seems to change the tone of the original song. Instead of pleading for a chance to prove himself, Campbell is swearing an oath to the gods.

“Don’t Let Me Cave In”, a cornerstone track of Suburbia, I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing, may be the most dramatically changed. In lieu of the raging guitars, the song is a ballad focusing on dreamlike keyboard melodies with minimalistic guitars. Originally, this song was frantic and desperate. Campbell seemed to search for an excuse for being in such hysterics. He pleaded for help. This softer version finds him saying the same words, but determination is behind him. He’s aware of his problems and thankful to have someone there to help see him through his demons.

Not every song takes a different tone to its predecessor. “Dismantling Summer” is arguably the most direct conversion to acoustics. “Coffee Eyes” is still an absolute jam. The drums rattle away and the guitars are crisp and hypnotic. Slightly more isolated, Campbell’s cracking voice as he shouts, “There’s always been a table for me there”, sounds so much better than it did on the original recording.

“You In January”, one of No Closer To Heaven’s stand-out tracks, tops off the EP. The light violin and plinking piano provide the romantic backing a song like this always asked for. It’s also in this song that the record’s title, Burst & Decay become prominent as Campbell sings to his love. “You In January” is the thesis of the album in a roundabout way. Where many of these songs centered on the idea of cracking slowly and trying to stop the damage, these versions have managed that task.

Burst & Decay is one of the few acoustic albums that make a true difference in a band’s sound. Much like The Starting Line’s Make Yourself At Home, this record is short, crisp and fundamentally different than the core sound of the band. Though it doesn’t carry the same weight or theme of a proper album, Burst & Decay does enough to differentiate itself from anything else The Wonder Years have done.

My one hope for this album was that perhaps the songs would be reimagined lyrically, much in the same way that “Logan Circle” and “Logan Circle: A New Hope” were. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case with Burst & Decay. But finding a new meaning and tone to the existing lyrics may be something more profound.

4/5

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 is probably playing euchre right now. Why? No reason other than he is a pretty cool cat. Myaaah!

Most Anticipated of 2017: #3 The Wonder Years Come Out Swinging…Again

the-wonder-years-band

It’s impossible not to be excited for a new release from The Wonder Years. The band has written some truly magical music unlike anything else in the genre. When they announced on Twitter just before the new year that they were getting busy writing a record, they accidentally bumped off a few contenders for this list (sorry, Saves the Day and Hellogoodbye).

Around this time seven years ago, The Wonder Years seemed to appear out of nowhere and take over the punk scene by storm. Since then, they’ve not only released music regularly, but they’ve managed to up their own ante each time, growing as into one of the strongest and most respected bands out there.

I don’t need to know what direction they’re going this time, nor do I care. Each experiment they’ve touched has paid off, and each theme becomes deeper and more structured. I just can’t wait to see what else they’ve come up with.

Additionally, it’s about time for a new Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties release. Last year’s Bittersweet EP was a fantastic taste of what’s to come and gave some insight into what has happened in West’s life since we last saw him on We Don’t Have Each Other. It’s been three years since that album, and if West’s acoustic tour last year was anything to go by, there is a frantic fan base waiting for the next real chapter.

It’s only been a year and a half since the release of No Closer to Heaven, and they’re already gearing up for their next record. The dedication and groundwork The Wonder Years team show toward their craft is why they’re so beloved. That they have enough inspiration to work so tirelessly is enough reason to anticipate anything they’re preparing for.

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 yells at the rain on occasion. He also wants to play you in FIFA.