Aaron West & The Roaring Twenties – We Don’t Have Each Other

  • Dustin Blumhagen posted
  • Reviews

Aaron West & the Roaring Twenties

We Don't Have Each Other - Hopeless Records

We Don’t Have Each Other documents the collapse of Aaron West, a man whose life falls down around him. West is a fully fleshed out character, complete with faults, which he admits during his grieving process. A strained relationship collapses with the loss of the baby that was intended to mend their problems. His father passes away and he is left empty. Essentially, he is facing his 30s at the lowest point of his life, losing everything he loved. The concept album invites listeners into the most intimate personal thoughts of a relatable character, in a way that reflects a novel rather than a collection of songs.

Aaron West is to Dan Campbell as The Rum Diary’s Paul Kemp is to Hunter S Thompson; a fictional character deeply reflective of the writer. While this was intended to be an exercise in stretching musical boundaries for Campbell, the relatable emotional poetry found here reads like a natural maturation from those found on The Greatest Generation. While a large part of musical history is built around songs about heartache, the only artistic expression that I can think of that offers such an unflinching look at the break down of a man is the indie flick, Blue Valentine. It is painful to witness West’s innermost thoughts and feelings; truly crushing, with no real reprieve at the end, only a simple acceptance of his fate.

This is a test in empathy. If you can listen through the album without feeling utterly depressed for West and his struggles, you really need to do some internal soul searching. This is raw emotion bled out onto the page, coming through the speakers and touching your heart. It is by far Campbell’s most mature offering and one wonders how teens will relate to his lyrical narrative.

There are muted echoes of The Wonder Years that surface on occasion (The Thunderbird Inn), mostly through Campbell’s distinctive vocals, but overall, the despondent vibe is surrounded by appropriately melancholy music. Stepping away from the pop punk of his full band, Campbell pushes his musical boundaries, adding sparse banjo and fantastic horn melodies that flesh out the songs.

The songs all become an integral part of the overall concept, which makes them hard to judge as standalone tracks. At times, they could easily have come from a Wonder Years’ release, as in debut single You Ain’t No Saint, which has a fantastic horn section that adds weight to the heavy lyrics. There are moments that express the joys of young love, the freedom that comes with the initial endorphine rush, such as When I met you we were young and like gasoline to matches. Waking up drunk, sleeping through your early classes. But he foreshadows the fall with the follow up lines, I grew up and grew dull and you say you wish I hadn’t, well I’m drunk again, which leads to the drunken crash of the protagonist, falling to his lowest point on the album.

Elsewhere, Campbell moves further from his musical roots.  The closing original track, Carolina Coast is a somber acoustic number with occasional horn flourishes, which accent the sorrow in the song. It is a dismal ending to the story of West’s life. On Divorce & the American South, a plodding acoustic track accents desperate voicemail messages left from a desolate phone booth in the middle of nowhere.  Grapefruit begins with West praying in vain, looking for answers that won’t be found. He reveals his faults and fears over a somber bar band track, which is vaguely reminiscent of Counting Crows.

Campbell’s songwriting has improved drastically over the past few years. There is no evidence of the man who played in pre-The Upsides cheesy-core group. Strong lines like I found enough of your hairpins to build you a monument, a statue to loneliness, from Our Apartment and outside, a homeless man asks me for change and I look him straight in his eyes. He starts to apologize. Tells me god’s got a plan for me and that it’ll be alright… I didn’t know that I looked that pathetic from The Thunderbird Inn are masterfully written and paint vivid images.

As the album closes with a cover of The Mountain Goats’ Going to Georgia, the listener fades back into reality, leaving West to cope with his unresolved future alone. We Don’t Have Each Other is a narrative that follows a man as he falls apart. The story overshadows the music, which becomes a vehicle to express the emotion, not the center of the piece. Campbell explored new musical territory, but more importantly he created a character who becomes real through the album.

You know Aaron West. You want to give him a hug, tell him it will be okay in time and let him know you will be there when he finds his way out of the darkness. You sincerely hope that he does find his way. This is where Campbell truly excels, at making West real; a friend, a brother, maybe even you.