First, apologies for the delay in posting. I had a strange past few weeks. That, combined with my inability to find a way to convey my thoughts on this album, led to some stagnation. I hope to crank out a few reviews, both vinyl and new releases, over the next few days. They may be shorter than my first posts, but it will get me back into the habit of listening and writing.
Out Of The Badlands, Into The Unknown
As I mentioned, I struggled with this album. It is a very basic vinyl release and there is not much to comment on, but I will write what I can. As for the music, it seemed to me a very personal album that almost needed the listener to be exactly where Aaron was to grasp it, and as I was going through my own funk, I just couldn’t relate. In an effort to push through to better content, I will break down what I can.
The vinyl is a simple release: cover, plain white inner sleeve, and cream-colored vinyl, limited to 500 pressed. The cream color matches the album cover very nicely. It sounds nice through my system. Most of the music is acoustic guitar, light drums, and vocals with various other instruments sprinkled in, which already lends itself to a warm sound, and the vinyl helps this. Even the “bigger” songs on the album, such as “Say This Sooner”, still have a close feel to them, which is very much a testament of Aaron’s vocals.
An insert would have gone a long way to helping this release seem a bit fuller. I don’t have the CD to compare, so I don’t know how the packaging looks on that end. Even just a press photo of Aarron with lyrics on the back side would have sufficed. Or make the inner sleeve into that. I know this increases cost of production, and then selling value, but it sold at $17 USD, so I would have been fine paying $20 for extra effort. Part of vinyl (and CDs as well) is having the physical product and it having value while you listen to the album. Looking at all the artwork, reading lyrics and thank you’s … It’s an important part of the finished product that helps convey everything the artist intended the album to be.
A little explanation of my exposure to Aaron/Underøath/The Almost will probably help with your understanding of my thoughts on this album. And so: being a Florida resident I saw Underøath quite a few times live, but they never really did anything for me. It felt like chaotic noise, and I was more into technical metal or straight metalcore. I saw posters for The Almost everywhere, and being around other Tooth and Nail bands I was into them pretty quick. I was surprised when I found out that it was the side project of Underøath’s drummer. At that point I gave Uø a real chance and found I really did like them, but maybe not as much as everyone else. The Almost was how I came to love Aaron. I never listened to his worship stuff, mostly because I never knew it existed … BEC Recordings needs to promote better …
And now, “Out Of The Badlands”, a solo record, but not through the same venue as his worship music, containing some original material, covers of his own band’s songs, and covers of other band’s songs. I believe the first teases of material were the acoustic Underøath covers, which hooked everyone, as they should. When I saw the tracklisting had acoustic cover’s of The Almost material, I was sold. I want to state now, before the rest of the review, the album is completely worth it for the acoustic covers of Underøath and The Almost songs. They are great. Incredible even. But that doesn’t mean that this album didn’t cause weird feelings when listening straight through.
The music is mostly acoustic guitar with light drums and vocals, with additional vocals on some tracks. There is a fuller sound using those instruments on a few songs, but mostly, it is mostly a stripped down set. The only “full band” recording is the last song “You Don’t Love Me Anymore”. The covers don’t feel as if they have gone under any rearrangement, though with the Underøath covers it might seem off because of the stark stylistic difference. The sound of this album lends itself to Aaron playing in a quiet bar or coffee shop with some light instrumentation, and it’s different and nice.
The part of this album that I struggle with is the overall message. “What is Aaron trying to say with these songs?” “Why can’t I connect when I sit down to listen to this?” I can take any one of the songs and listen to it by itself or in the middle of a playlist and think it’s wonderful, but the album itself just doesn’t sit right with me.
Here follows heavy speculation. I’m going to venture I am not right, but this is how I rationalize it.
Aaron had a wealth of extremely personal events happen over the past few years. The most obvious being quitting Underøath, and his divorce. There are more, and I won’t go into them. He has said plenty in various other mediums and I don’t want to rehash that. This album was, I assume, used as catharsis for him. He picked covers of songs that spoke to his feelings in the moment and it would be hard for others who hadn’t experienced those things to feel that with him. He chose covers of older songs from other bands to bring him back to when he was writing and the feeling of energy that time had, which is hard for anyone who wasn’t in those situations to reminisce on. And the new, original songs seem to deal explicitly with his broken relationship, which is easier to relate to, but still very dark and raw in presentation. In it’s whole, the album swings back and forth from these emotions and make it, at least for me, hard to get through. It’s possible that simply changing the track order may have solved this. To move between stages, or arrange it in “movements”, may have helped guide the listener through Aaron’s thoughts and feeling rather than jumping around.
All this said, the songs are great. Please listen to it. It may be that you are more connected to it than others. And if not, keep the Underøath and The Almost covers in a good acoustic playlist. Aaron needed this album help him move through an intensely trying time, and we are beneficiaries of great music. I hope his next solo effort feels a bit more cohesive, and that this album really did help him push through his dark space.