Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties - We Don't Have Each Other (Cover Artwork)

Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties

We Don't Have Each Other (2014)

Hopeless Records

In The Wonder Year’s song “…and Now I’m Nothing”, front-man Dan “Soupy” Campbell sings, “I had dreams of myself//As the Allen Ginsberg of this generation//Without the madness talent or vision”. With his side project Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties, he has written a concept album that gets as close to quintessential American literature as Campbell has been in his career. We Don't Have Each Other, according to Campbell, tells the story of the eponymous Aaron West and the worst year of his life. This is a distinct departure from Campbell’s normal lyrical style, which is very confessional and based on his life; however, Through his distinctive specificity of detail, Campbell finds a way to make us believe the narrative (a narrative, by the way, which does not take place in the roaring twenties, but instead in modern day New York) as if it had happened to us.

The lyrically driven concept album comes off sounding like an alt-country version of what you might expect from a Wonder Year’s side project. But the diversity of instruments (which includes horns, steel guitar, and banjo) give the album a musical depth not previously achieved by the pop punk band. In addition to The Wonder Years frontman Dan Campbell, the album personnel includes: Ace Enders (The Early November) who also produced the record; Wonder Year’s drummer, Nick Steinborn; John James Ryan of We Are the Union; and Tom Ryan of Young Statues. Steinborn’s unique fills and tight drumming musically hold the pieces of this record together, and Campbell’s mostly unskilled guitar playing always finds a way to feel fresh and makes me feel ALL the feelings.

The albums opens with the song “Our Apartment”, a song that starts off with slow acoustic guitar and romantic lyrics about his wife’s hair and clothes on the floor, but quickly proceeds to subvert that expectation when the full band chimes in, wasting no time in beginning the narrative “I had lunch with your sister//And she told me it’s over//that you’re calling your lawyers//That you’re not coming back”. The song “Running Scared”--in which Campbell belts out “I curse the dashboard heat!”--sounds most like a Wonder Years song. The record comes to a head in the track “You Ain’t No Saint”, which was also the first single and arguably the emotional climax to the record. The song opens with a raw, screamed count-in echoing in the background, and remembers the nostalgic beginnings of his relationship with his wife and deceased father.

If the album has a failing it is that it is at times depressing. The narrative follows Aaron West in the year his father died, wife had a miscarriage and then left him, and he as tries to quit smoking and pull it all back together. Even the football team he and his father cheered for is sad (see the Buffalo Bills losing in the Superbowl from 91-94), in “You Aint No Saint” he sings, “And he'd spend Sunday//Watching the game with me//Explaining everything//We'd watch Jim Kelly lead the way//And if my dad was here I wonder what he'd say.” Needless to say, don’t put it on at any parties (believe me, I have tried). Musically, it doesn’t break any ground, but it does what is necessary to tell a heartfelt narrative and stay fresh, layered, and interesting enough for non-stop listen-ability for at least the next six months of your life.