I’m sitting here in front of the laptop on the eve of getting to see American Aquarium live for the very first time (by the time you’re reading this I’ll already have seen them) and I’m preparing to do my third piece about an American Aquarium album. When they first started up they were easily described as Whiskeytown-meets-Lucero, and every obligatory Springsteen reference was earned in full. With their latest album, Small Town Hymns, I feel like the band is finally starting to try and break out of those limits. Some will point at the lyrical content of this album and say it’s safe, playing well within the tried and true confines of the alt.country genre, and honestly I cannot argue with that assessment. That said, what B.J.’s lyrics might lack in refinement is made up in the kind of authenticity that can occasionally find a small handful of his “songs” present in the bar during hometown shows, and I can appreciate that kind of thing.
In the past I’ve described American Aquarium as an “indie rock band with just enough twang & swagger to keep this particular blogger engaged”. This time around the tides have certainly changed, bringing us a largely Americana sound with enough indie elements to keep it from sounding stale or formulaic but that swagger, that ain’t going nowhere.
For me the real gem in this album isn’t in it’s lyrical content (liked or not) and it’s not in the indie main dish, which has been relegated to a mere side dish. No, where this album truly excels is in its overall feel. To me, the album has a quiet desperation to it with an underlying theme of people trying get out of their self-defined limits, beliefs, towns and habits, even though everyone, including themselves, know they’ll probably fail. Maybe it’s ’cause I grew up in a small town with the same mind frame or ’cause I’m drunk tonight, but there is something about that that I can embrace, befriend and label Essential Listening.
American Aquarium – Nothing To Lose
American Aquarium – Rattlesnake
American Aquarium – Water in the Well
American Aquarium’s Official Site, American Aquarium on myspace, Buy Small Town Hymns
If it seems like it was just last month I was last writing about American Aquarium, that’s ’cause it basically was.
I opened the piece about their last album with the following line
“American Aquarium come out of Raleigh, North Carolina with an indie-rock sound that has enough country swagger to it to keep this particular blogger engaged.”
Dances For The Lonely finds Caitlin Cary returning for backup vocals detail while Chris Stamey (Whiskeytown, Ben Folds Five, The Rosebuds) takes the producer role. On Dances For The Lonely American Aquarium seems to have forgone the indie sound for a more straight-forward roots rock feel.
If you’ll allow me to expound upon that for a moment…
I’m not, by any stretch of the imagination, a Springsteen fan. Matter of fact, my favorite Springsteen songs are when they’re sung by someone else. I know that’s sacrilege to say in this segment of the music world, but it’s the truth. With that said, on this album American Aquarium has a sound similar to how I feel Springsteen should sound in my mind’s ear. I dunno if that makes any sense but, for myself, it certainly makes for Essential Listening.
American Aquarium – City Lights
American Aquarium – Katherine Belle
American Aquarium – PBR Promenade
American Aquarium on myspace, Buy Dances For The Lonely
American Aquarium come out of Raleigh, North Carolina with an indie-rock sound that has enough country swagger to it to keep this particular blogger engaged. Their sophomore album, The Bible & The Bottle has been out for so long there really isn’t anything I could say about it that hasn’t already been said in other places where real professionals write, but I will say it’s pretty freakin’ awesome and you should check it out.
American Aquarium features a sound that’s been described as Whiskeytown meets Lucero (I’d add a touch of Roger Hoover when he was a Whiskeyhound instead of a Magpie) and on The Bible & The Bottle they embrace that comparison, going so far as to bring Whiskeytown’s producer Greg Elkins into produce it, getting Whiskeytown’s drummer Skillet Gilmore to do the artwork and even featuring Caitlin Cary on backing vocals on some of the tracks.
We’re kind of in a weird position with American Aquarium. I just found out about them a couple of months ago, and as a result we’re a year late talking about The Bible & The Bottle but we’re writing about them while they’re on the edge of releasing a new album, Dances for the Lonely, come April 25. The Whiskeytown connections continue to run deep on the new album, which finds Caitlin Cary returning for backup vocals detail while Chris Stamey (Whiskeytown, Ben Folds Five, The Rosebuds) takes the producer role. Hopefully the band doesn’t try to reinvent themselves on Dances for the Lonely and they continue to build on the sound they’ve already established.
American Aquarium – California
American Aquarium – Lover Too Late
American Aquarium – Monsters (Is it just me or does this song remind anyone else of the Nine Inch Nails track, Hurt?)
Johnny Cash – Hurt
Nine Inch Nails – Hurt
American Aquarium on myspace, Buy The Bible & The Bottle