Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties
Routine Maintenance


4.5
superb

Review

by Channing Freeman STAFF
May 12th, 2019 | 131 replies


Release Date: 05/10/2019 | Tracklist

Review Summary: More than a side project and much more than a story.

Routine Maintenance, from both a musical and narrative perspective, ends before the last two songs even play. “God and the Billboards” – a song that is barely about God and even less about billboards – comes after seven songs that cover months of time and growth for Dan Campbell’s titular Aaron West character. More accurately, it comes after a debut album, an EP, a single, and then seven songs, all telling the story of a lonely, broke-down shell of a man trying to rebuild his life after marital disaster. All of the growth in all of those songs leads him to the moment in “God and the Billboards” when his sister reaches out in a moment of need, he answers the call, the strings swell in anticipation, and then he starts driving home. Aaron West, heading east.

It could end right there, with an endless highway stretching into the distance, the sun in the rearview mirror. Most albums would. Yet, as it did for Ishmael after the Pequod was destroyed, life goes on. After the musical climax, after the seemingly natural endpoint of the narrative, there are still pieces to pick up, lessons to be learned, hard work to be done. The boring and necessary maintenance that comes when you finally stop running away. He goes to his brother-in-law’s funeral, teaches his nephew some organ chords, makes food, changes the oil in his mom’s car. These things are boring or tedious when you and I have to do them, but they are absolutely beautiful and life-affirming in the hands of Campbell, who, in some ways, has showed the best sides of his writing with Aaron West.

This project has always been more promising than a mere side gig, but Routine Maintenance feels fully formed and novelistic in a way that We Don’t Have Each Other did not. Perhaps that is a function of the concept. We know Aaron West now, especially the worst parts of him, his failures and weaknesses. Each song swings with the combined weight of the ones that came before. As the story goes on, they hit harder and harder. “Rosa and Reseda,” the fulcrum on which the album rests, is the best example of this. After so much bad luck and poor choices, Campbell lets the metaphors and imagery drop away in favor of plaintive language that speaks to the comfortable complacency of a growing friendship – “We used to smoke in the fire escape; now we just smoke in the living room” – and just how much that simple, deep bond means to him – “When I so desperately needed a friend, Rosa was a friend.”

From the first song on We Don’t Have Each Other, it was clear that Aaron West was not one of the folk projects so common to pop-punk frontmen. There was a banjo, there were horns, there were interesting song structures and time signatures. Routine Maintenance takes that even further. Campbell’s voice – and by extension, West’s – is almost drowned out by horns in “Lead Paint and Salt Air,” a song that finds triumph in isolation and a clear head. “Bury Me Anywhere Else” ends with a saxophone solo reminiscent, appropriately, of the sadly forgotten band The State Lottery. “God and the Billboards” is basically a country song, all Nashville drums and fiddles. “Runnin’ Toward the Light” sounds like “Born to Run” but is really the band’s “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” a creation myth that overtly references every named character in the Aaron West canon. When he names them, he’s reminded of the role they played in his story. The past, like the resilient green couch from “Green Like the G Train, Green Like Sea Foam,” is always encroaching on the present, up to the last song that references “Orchard Park” and the scattering of ashes.

The title track is the last sentence in a chapter, and someday soon Campbell will turn the page. Maybe we’ll find out that Aaron West squandered the hope he found when he finally made it back home. Maybe it wasn’t really hope at all. That I want so badly to know what happens next shows the surprising power of this project, and that I can stand to wait shows the quality of the songs released so far. “Carolina Coast” ended with West deciding to live. “Routine Maintenance” ends with him finding something to live for. And, of course, neither song was really the last song. They were simply reminders that a revelation, however hard-won, is a beginning, not an end.



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user ratings (108)
3.7
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
Odal
May 12th 2019


446 Comments


This is an incredible review. I haven't ever given this project the attention it deserves, but I liked some of the singles from this. It's a shame that Sister Cities kind of sucked, but I'm glad Soupy has found a way to still flex his muscles.

stasar
May 12th 2019


123 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This what the Gaslight Anthem wishes they made. Holy shit, what an album. The descriptions are Campbell at his best.

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Cormano
May 12th 2019


1653 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

woah

Feather
May 12th 2019


5380 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Beautiful review. I am absolutely enthralled by this album.

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 12th 2019


32450 Comments

Album Rating: 3.7

Yeah seriously excellent write up. I'm only just getting into The Wonder Years and Aaron West now but I can already tell there's something special here.

Digging: Jimmy Eat World - Surviving

butt.
May 12th 2019


5164 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

So glad you mentioned the State Lottery, that saxophone solo makes that song 100% feel like one of their songs.

butt.
May 12th 2019


5164 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Also @stasar...

The Gaslight Anthem created something huge in the ‘59 Sound. While there are comparisons to be made between them and Aaron West, they are entirely different and aim for different things. I definitely wouldn’t say this is what TGA was “trying” to do. Whatever they tried to do, they achieved big time.

JesperL
May 12th 2019


460 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

beautiful review for a beautiful record, it's very difficult to compare but i think i like this better than sister cities.

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
May 12th 2019


978 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Thanks, all. I thought hard about giving this a 5.



Sowing, I'd recommend going through the discography in order, including the EP and single, to get the full impact.



Buttboy, I was hoping someone else would appreciate the State Lottery reference. That sax tone is EXACTLY the same.

LOVEANDACCEPTANCE
May 12th 2019


897 Comments


certainly better than sister cities

Point1
May 12th 2019


710 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Are his vocals better on this than the first Aaron West album and the last Wonder Years album?



EDIT: "Runnin Towards the Light" is 100% a Frank Turner song haha. I think I'd probably really love this record if it actually was Turner singing but I just really don't like Campbells voice anymore tbh.

Crawl
May 12th 2019


2602 Comments


Yeah, I agree, his vocals are often grating to me on his latest releases. It's a shame, cause the songwriting is great.

Atari
Staff Reviewer
May 12th 2019


25002 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Fantastic review, chan



I’m so happy with this album. Will most likely be bumping my score higher



oneups
May 12th 2019


86 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

The wait is over, I'm quite excited to check this out. For some reason I have yet to listen to Sister Cities in its entirety. I don't know, the singles were good but it seems more and more like they're accomplishing something different than what I listen for. Aaron West has had a tendency to be right more in my alley these days.

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
May 12th 2019


978 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

The vocal affectations are not as pronounced here as they are on Sister Cities. But it's still Campbell, that's for sure.

Rawrz
May 12th 2019


182 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Really looking forward to the conclusion of this story, and happy Dan has said he doesnt want to wait another 5 years to get to it haha. This is such a good record

butt.
May 12th 2019


5164 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Honestly I think I’m a bit more “okay” with the dramatic vocal delivery when it’s Aaron West simply because he’s playing a character whose life has fallen apart. So it makes sense. And yeah I’m probably enjoying this more than Sister Cities, but also kinda hard to compare

JesperL
May 12th 2019


460 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

vocals on 'just sign the papers' especially bring me to tears tbh

Atari
Staff Reviewer
May 12th 2019


25002 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

SHE WAITS TABLES ON THE WEEKDAYS

JayEnder
May 12th 2019


5482 Comments


shit

Sorry I didn't mean to call you honey

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