Review Summary: Sean Bonnette's heartbreaking stories of coming to grips with past failures are put to music, creating an amazing work of brutally honest art.
Regret, no matter how good of a life you have lived, will always be lurking, like a looming shadow casting a bleak darkness. The poignant heartbreak of wondering what could have happened is one that fuels many existential crises and gloomy dwellings across this green and blue earth. Although anyone can dwell and feel sorry for themselves, a sign of true maturity is learning to move on from these moments where things have fallen through or people have been wronged. After all, is it not foolish to think you could go back and change the past? Rather, is it not more noble to admit that you were wrong or things could have gone better, and using that to make up for past grievances and learning from them? That seems much more productive than living in the past.
This is what makes the plight of Sean Bonnette one that is intriguing and crushingly truthful. Although commendable, this process of maturing isn't easy, which can be seen displayed across this album in many ways. The first song starts with a fiery ode to self-destruction, in which Bonnette details the many ways he wants to break himself apart, as well as describing some of what he sees as character flaws. Despite his destructive and self-deprecating nature, he is admitting that “if all [he] see[s] is the worst in everything, that's all [he’s] gonna get.” The lyrics go on to range from him opening up about more of his flaws, on “Self Esteem” and “Evil,” his failed relationships, on songs like “Love Will *** Us Apart” and “Love in the Time of Human Papillomavirus,” and Bonnette even addresses how harmful his lifestyle has become on songs like “Truckers Are the Blood.” Throughout this album, we see Bonnette slowly learning to look the demons of self-doubt, hate, regret, and fear dead in the eyes and spit in their faces, and gets stronger in the process. Even on the track “We Didn't Come Here to Rock,” Bonnette seems to realize his shallow hatred for critics stems from them “pissing on [his] most pathetic parts,” admitting he's taken this criticism and negative reception personally.
Of course, all of this heart-wrenching commentary on one's self is backed up by some stellar music. Bonnette's guitar playing is as skilled and attention catching as always, just as Ben Gallaty's bass playing is just as rustic and dense as it is on the other AJJ projects. This did happen to be the band's first album with more electric instruments, but they sound comfortable with said change. The songwriting usually focuses on the duo's guitar and bass usage, but many of these songs either have faster arrangements that are folksy or electric, or slow and somber pieces which are dripping with depressing ambiance, due to the heavy use of horns and strings in the background. This leads to the compositions being striking and catchy or dark and melancholic, which gives a strong contrast to many of the songs and their placement on the record. No matter the emotion being portrayed, the writing is ingeniously drafted and performed, complementing whatever is being said in the tale of coming to terms with the past.
This story ends with a stretch of three songs that embody the struggle to forgive and forget. Sense & Sensibility shows Bonnette learning to forgive himself and the people who judge him, as well as accepting the various problems he can't change, like his falling out with religion. The next song, “Who Are You?,” has the frontman confronting what might be his biggest demon of all, his father that abandoned his mother and him when he was young. Bonnette shows that he is bigger than his father by sarcastically thanking his father, showing that he is over the sadness that his father has caused him. The brutally saddening finale, “White Face, Black Eyes,” is a dreamlike story of death and being able to let go, letting Bonnette let go of his final regrets of things long gone, ending this amazingly personal tale and showing our protagonist as a stronger person then we found him.