A funny thing happens on the way to being a beloved, six year/ five album, workhorse rock and roll band playing 300 shows a year: life beats the shit out of you. From great suffering comes great art, and it’s all the better if there’s some pedal steal involved.
American Aquarium frontman, BJ Barham, has described Burn. Flicker. Die. as a record of “consequences.”
The reality is, when you make a career out of rock and roll, you don’t exactly wake up and check your stock portfolio while eating a fruit bowl and some artisan waffles before you let the nanny into your reasonably mortgaged home. More likely you wake up with stomach acid burning the nightly bandages off your broken heart as you mutter “where the hell are we?” and the first person you ask may not know. Those are consequences.
However, while the past six years may have dealt an increasingly empty hand on the felt table of their personal lives, musically, American Aquarium has had the kind of success young artists in this day and age would kill for.
Sure, these days, at most venues, your name in lights doesn’t exactly sparkle or glow, and a lot of times there are probably a couple of upside down “V’s” substituted for missing “A’s” on the sign, but American Aquarium have amassed an ever-growing and extremely loyal following across the country by playing their asses off every night and consistently releasing albums that are each better than the one previous.
Although it wasn’t clear at the time, the tug you felt from American Aquarium’s previous albums was the undertow building the massive tidal wave that comes crashing down with the opening riff of “Cape Fear River.”
Six years of humpin’ it from town to town, loading in and out, playing thousands of shows hundreds of miles from home, and living life like some sort of combination of a Kris Kristofferson song and the arrest report of an Irishman who stole the keys to a Jameson truck all paid off. This album undoubtedly represents a turning point in American Aquarium’s career and firmly places the band on the same ground as the giants of their genre. Burn. Flicker. Die. is one of the truest rock and roll records of the year.
Every lyric lands like bare-knuckled poetry, knocking blood, teeth, and spit out of your skull. BJ sings with such passion and fire that if the guys weren’t in tune and on beat, it could pass as punk. (Awww snap, punk burn!)
Production wise, American Aquarium found the perfect partner with Jason Isbell behind the boards. The album was recorded at Nutt House studios in Muscle Shoals. Most of the arrangements were worked out ahead of time and road-tested, but there is an almost indescribable Shoals sound in there– whether it’s the legacy of the area, the local vibe, Spooner Oldham’s aura, or something in the water, there’s just a rich, analogue feeling of warmth bubbling up around these songs that provides a velvety texture over what could have been some pretty sharp edges.
Guests on the album include the legendary and aforementioned Spooner Oldham on keys, Isbell on guitar and keys, and both Caitlin Cary and Amanda Shires on fiddle and vocals. (For those who like to geek out on No Depression style trivia, the presence of both Caitlin and Amanda on the same album will probably make this record somewhat of a missing link in the future archeological digs of Americana archives).
It may seem odd that an album with an underlying theme that teeters on defeat could in fact be the piece that takes their career to the next level, but this is rock and roll, not whatever your boss rides your ass about all week. Burn. Flicker. Die. will do great things from American Aquarium and fans of roots rock and roll. Odds are, a lot of eyes and ears will be on these guys at the Americana Music Association Showcase/Festival in Nashville next month, especially considering Isbell is likely to be the belle of the ball and has a shot at running the table at the awards.
You can pick up a free download of the title track above, but keep in mind, this is an album, not just a bunch of songs. You need to hear them all, in order, and on repeat. You can pre-order the album on various combinations of media on Lone Star Music, and keep an eye on their tour schedule on AmericanAquarium.net (whoever owns the .com must be a seriously patriotic, fish-loving, domain poacher). Burn. Flicker. Die. is available August 28th.