Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties
In Lieu of Flowers


5.0
classic

Review

by Sowing STAFF
April 13th, 2024 | 77 replies


Release Date: 04/12/2024 | Tracklist

Review Summary: The perfect conclusion to a story for the ages.

Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties have always been leagues above your typical pop-punk frontman’s side project. The music is fuller and more sonically diverse for certain, but the devastating lyrics and Soupy Campbell’s gut-wrenching delivery packs an emotional punch which leaves a lasting impression. Like a bruise, the pain is hard to forget. Through We Don’t Have Each Other’s divorce and how Routine Maintenance left us with the death of Ann’s brother-in-law, it’s been a harrowing journey that explores grief in serious depth and relatable detail. If you look at the music through a cinematic lens, then In Lieu of Flowers is Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties’ series finale. It’s a devastating but ultimately uplifting piece that adds closure to the superbly narrated trilogy.

The story resumes on ‘Smoking Rooms’ with West performing solo in a bar. If you’ll recall, Aaron left his band during Routine Maintenance in order to help his sister and serve as a positive male presence for his nephew. As the song gradually builds tension through heavier acoustic strumming and increasingly emotional shouts, the band surprises West and joins him on stage in a euphoric “reunion” that erupts with triumphant horns and energetic drumming. It’s the moment that sees Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties reintroduce themselves to both their fictional and real audience, and you’ll find that much of In Lieu of Flowers is about loose ends getting tied: the band gets back together, old friends become reacquainted, and addictions are overcome with the steadfast support of friends and family.

Of course, just like in real life, these moments aren’t easily reached. ‘Roman Candle’ sees the band gearing up again and getting excited about the future, however the setting is that of early 2020 when people were just beginning to get sick and didn’t truly understand the gravity of what was about to happen: “But Mom works at the hospital, says every shift feels like a curse / She's never seen people this sick before, she says it's only getting worse.” ‘Paying Bills at the End of the World’ follows in real time, illustrating the struggles of living through the pandemic – West’s primary source of income had dried up, and everyone is just trying to make ends meet. “I've been having that dream where I'm dying again, the one where I get sick and we can't afford it / I've been walking around here with no health insurance, and we can barely keep the lights on as it is”, he sings atop a countryish sway underpinned by subtle pianos, while trying to scrape some money together through odds-and-ends work: “Some guy I knew from high school got me a job here with his dad / So now I install garage doors on the south shore.” This is also the moment he meets Sam, who ends up being someone of romantic significance – although he ends up inadvertently hurting them because of his own paralyzing fear of intimacy, ten long years post-divorce: “I'll drive you home, it's getting late / You leaned in and I turned my face away.” The whole band succumbs to illness during a tour in London, their record label won’t decide on whether or not to re-sign them, and West finds himself drinking again. It all comes to a head on the gorgeous, depressing ‘Whiplash’ – an acoustically pristine, horn and string swept gem that deserves to be mentioned among the best of Campbell’s entire career.

West’s downward spiral continues on ‘Spitting In The Wind’, when he performs a belligerent, rambling show in front of the record label and ends up blowing the opportunity: “The whole band is pissed, they’re letting me drown, I led them to slaughter / My voice sounds like shit, I’m blowing it out, I’ll see you in the water.” He immediately goes on a bender during ‘I’m An Albatross’ (“Drunk and weak, I order food and fall asleep / And the cook wakes me up and asks me to leave”), only to have a crystallizing moment of realizing his self-worth when his sister calls to check on him: “I'm still mad as hell at you, but I need to know that you’re okay / You paint dad like a damn saint, and you know that I loved him too / But he drank himself to death the same way / I won't let it happen twicе, no, not again/ It's time to get up and fix your mess.” West responds with a moment of internal dialogue:

It's been a dеcade since I thought about drowning in the sea
When everybody in my life had either died or left me
I should feel lucky now that someone thinks that I'm worth saving


With that, Aaron buys a flight home and checks himself into rehab. It’s the inflection point within In Lieu of Flowers and the moment that alters the entire trajectory of the Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties trilogy.

If ‘I’m an Albatross’ is an emotional wrecking ball that changes everything for Aaron West, then ‘Runnin’ Out of Excuses’ sees him putting in the work: “I'm singing at brick walls, I'm getting my voice back / I'm patching up new faults with resin and sea salt / Fill in the old cracks.” Set over an elegant piano intro that transforms into the project’s trademark blend of acoustic chords and Springsteen-esque horns, it manages to feel honest, authentic, and representative all at once: almost like a reclamation of one’s identity. Everything from that point forward is West’s redemption arc, and it’s a beautiful one. The title track sees him apologize to Sam for rejecting their advances (“Sam, I was fucking afraid… I've been hollow for so long, I figured that's how I'd stay / No one's seen me without my clothes on in almost a decade”), and he also patches things up with the band by calling up the label, begging for another chance, and booking them another gig. Finally, he tries to reconcile with his nephew, who was the most affected and hurt by his drinking: “Bought you a notebook and a hoodie, I know that I missed your birthday / This time sorry don't cut it / All I can give you is space / This next year's a leap year so there's time when you're ready…If you’re ready.” The refrain through all of these apologies is intended to represent their collective response, even if eventual through time: “In lieu of flowers, shake the dirt off / I'm with you till the bitter end.” The tone is almost celebratory, like someone who has emerged from the darkest depths of their entire life to once again begin to feel the sun on their skin; or, the warmth of love. If you’ve stuck with Aaron West for the entirety of this decade-long journey (We Don’t Have Each Other debuted in 2014), the wave of emotions is likely to be overwhelming.

In Lieu of Flowers draws the curtain on Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties with ‘Dead Leaves’. Ten years ago, on ‘St. Joe Keeps Us Safe’, Aaron West sang about the woman who had just divorced him: “So I lit up a smoke and took a walk through the park / And the dead leaves scrape concrete, making it sound like you're next to me, arm in arm.” Of course, she wasn’t really there, and the lyrics rang with a sense of heartbreaking emptiness. Now sober and on the mend, he has a startling moment of déja vu, only this time what he sees shocks him: “The dead leaves scrape the concrete behind me, you think that by now I'd have learned to stop turning / But it’s you this time, you’re walking alone and you’re pushing a stroller / The November light hangs low in the sky and reflects off the water / The gold glare hides me, I could be anybody / And I stand paralyzed on the street.” It’s clear from the lyrics that his ex-wife, Diane, has moved on and even had a child. We’re not sure how he’ll respond to this moment, but his reaction is proof of his positive character development over the last ten years, and that he’s exactly where he needs to be in order to have the kind of future that he never could have imagined on We Don’t Have Each Other or Routine Maintenance:

Up the block when I come to, I see our name on the marquee
And smile cause I love you and I know you found what you need
The future's a rhetorical question
So I open the door and I walk in


…And thus concludes the story of Aaron West. It’s open-ended in the best way possible, affording room for a future between him and Sam, where he also plays an important role in his sister’s life and can become a role model for his nephew. It even brings closure to his relationship with Diane; he’s happy for her and the better people that they’ve both become. Appropriately, the music across In Lieu of Flowers is the fullest, boldest, and most confident-sounding of the side-project’s entire discography. But honestly, with a story this poignant, potent, and cathartic, the melodies almost become an afterthought. In Lieu of Flowers is the perfect conclusion to a story for the ages; come, gather around, and experience some of the best songwriting of a generation.



s
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user ratings (68)
3.9
excellent


Comments:Add a Comment 
Sowing
Moderator
April 13th 2024


43955 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I wish I appreciated this project for what it ended up becoming from the very start. I sort of wrote off the debut back before I even knew who The Wonder Years were, but over time I became acquainted with both and now I actually think this may be the better project of the two. This is just a phenomenal trio of albums from start to finish, and this might be the best thing they've done. I'm in awe.

Slex
April 13th 2024


16610 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I want to scream the chorus of the t/t from a fucking mountaintop, impossibly massive

Spec
April 13th 2024


39478 Comments


We Don’t Have Each Other was fantastic. Gotta check this.

Sowing
Moderator
April 13th 2024


43955 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I didn't do this the right way initially (around Chan's 2019 review of Routine Maintenance, I finally listened in order) so if you have only heard the debut consider checking out the sophomore release before this one. The beauty of this whole project lies in the story.

Spec
April 13th 2024


39478 Comments


I listened to Maintenance but felt pretty indifferent about it. Perhaps i should go back.

butt.
April 13th 2024


10968 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Album is pretty incredible, need to spend a lot more time with it and dig into the lyrics. Opener is stunning.

neekafat
Staff Reviewer
April 13th 2024


26201 Comments


lol never change

YoYoMancuso
Staff Reviewer
April 13th 2024


18868 Comments

Album Rating: 3.7

i remember being lukewarm about the first album, but this review has me inspired to check out the rest.

Odal
Staff Reviewer
April 13th 2024


2095 Comments


Despite being a fan of The Wonder Years, I've had some issues getting into Aaron West. I'll give the whole trilogy a shot now that it's out.

Review is excellent Sowing.

Sowing
Moderator
April 13th 2024


43955 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Thanks Odal! And yeah YoYo/Odal, it took me forever to get into both TWY and Aaron West, which is odd for a pop-punk fan like me, but once things clicked there was no looking back.

Sowing
Moderator
April 13th 2024


43955 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

When he sings "I know you've had it bad" in the opener it feels like he's singing it directly to you. You feel it.

Slex
April 14th 2024


16610 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This might be a 5 dammit lol

MAGIC
April 14th 2024


13 Comments


Loved the first two releases, very much looking forward to spinning this

Is this the last album in a trilogy? Sounds like it from what is written but can't find anything elsewhere?

JesperL
Staff Reviewer
April 14th 2024


5480 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

yeah this thing rules, might be the best aaron west

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
April 14th 2024


47648 Comments


Monongahela Park is the best thing on this, Dan just absolutely on his shit. devastating song

zakalwe
April 14th 2024


38934 Comments


Yank brat parping

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
April 14th 2024


47648 Comments


none of those words are in the bible

zakalwe
April 14th 2024


38934 Comments


It was on the tablets Moses hauled down from the mount. Everyone has rolled their eyes ever since.

Sowing
Moderator
April 14th 2024


43955 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Paying Bills at the End of the World is probably my favorite musically, but nothing here hits harder than I'm an Albatross.

Feather
April 14th 2024


10165 Comments


Phenomenal review sowing and perfect story re-cap. Have always been a big fan, probably my favorite story albums. The first one in 2014 emotionally crushed me that summer.

You called out my two lines that hit me the most on this one (‘The gold glare hides me, I could be anybody’ and ‘ You paint dad like a damn saint, and you know that I loved him too / But he drank himself to death the same way’).

Did they announce this was the conclusion to the story? I must have missed that. Would be a great place to end.





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