Aaron Scott is, if nothing else, an artist who embraces change. In 2007 he left behind the more straight-ahead punk sounds of Marathon with Attica! Attica!'s debut, Dead Skin/Dried Blood. Gone were the blazing guitars, pounding drums and even the screaming. In its place were sweeping arrangements, orchestral instruments and laments of traveling and growing up. So it only stands to reason Attica! Attica!'s latest album, Napalm and Nitrogen, would follow the trend of musical reinvention and Scott does not disappoint.
While a title like Napalm and Nitrogen might lead some to expect music more along the lines of Scott's older projects (Marathon / De La Hoya), the album instead veers further into the singer/songwriter aspect, embracing a very minimalist approach to much of the music. The opener "Elk Rock Island" is a glaring contrast to the opener of the previous Attica! Attica! opener, "Motion Sickness." While "Motion Sickness" was a downbeat, richly instrumented number about feeling helpless in modern society, "Elk Rock Island" is upbeat and worthy of the moniker "ditty," with Scott joyously singing about the benefits of removing yourself from the sterility of today's world and simply playing in the woods or swimming in the sea. It's the sort of simple yet honest message and music that fills this album.
The album is carried on Scott's voice, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar and piano. While it is disappointing to not have a repeat of some of the array of music that filled Dead Skin/Dried Blood this new sound matches the tone and the message of the album perfectly. Simplicity is key here (as witnessed by Scott's latest effort, the "Ditch the Van" Tour). If a song doesn't need additional musicianship, cut it. This technique could easily lead to stripped-down, boring songs but Scott keeps everything moving with his bouncing melodies and vivid storytelling. Another technique that Scott incorporates his vocal harmonizing. On several tracks there are multiple vocal layers that add a richer "sing-along" feel to the songs.
The tone isn't all berries and bike rides. Scott allows the subject matter to take a darker turn on occasion, touching on unfulfilled goals, feelings of isolation and growing up and losing your hopes and spirit. But never does he allow these topics to encompass the subject matter, even in songs they are on. Scott never serves up despair without offering hope. For every slow "Tyler and Maria Were Right" there's a rip-roaring "Hobo Chili" to balance it out. This keeps the album from ever wallowing in self-pity or despair and instead takes the tone of introspection, looking at your own problems and concerns but never allowing them to consume everything you are.
If Dead Skin/Dried Blood was about traveling and struggling to make a change, then Napalm and Nitrogen is about reaching the conclusion that the best change is the ones you can do every day. The album rejoices in taking time to sing, to dance and to be conscious of the world around you. And if that's not enough make you listen, it's also free. In the ultimate tribute to simplicity Scott has forgone physical media and is allowing the album to be downloaded for free (though donations are appreciated) here. In a world where even upstart bands weigh themselves down with slick production, over-the-top marketing, lofty musical themes that ultimately fall flat and aspirations of tour buses, Aaron Scott has managed to take time to enjoy the simple things and in doing so, elevate them to something more.