Every now and again, we get an honest album. A piece of art that is crafted more out of personal experience and less out of the desire to be known. Artists who create such pieces seem to be able to take the darkest corners of their souls and make something beautiful out of it that we, the listener, can attach to. This transcends the shallow “sex, drugs, and rock n’roll” mindset of so many. In these artists we find truth in their exposure of their humanity. Turns out, musicians, like us, struggle with their purpose and meaning. To quote the great Frank Turner, “there are no such thing as rock stars, there’s just people who play music. Some of them are just like us, and some of them are dicks.”
It is in this busy, demanding, and demeaning time in which we live that we long for authenticity over the “show”. Recently, Aaron Gillespie released an album that is a voice crying out from the wilderness. Gillespie, who you may know from Underoath and The Almost, dropped one of the more personal albums we have came across this year. Fresh off what he described as “a tumultuous time of life turned upside down” the artist went deeper into his craft for a collection of reworked past releases, covers, and originals to convey where he was. It is difficult for a musician to have an album full of previously recording songs that tie together with where he or she is at that particular time in their career, but Gillespie does it masterfully and in a surprisingly personal way. Vulnerable and raw, Out of the Badlands could be his most honest work in his nearly two decade career.
Gillespie’s take on Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” gained us a deeper respect for her songwriting as well as his ability to make the song his own. Every line plays out in a highly relatable and heartbreaking way. He sways between a whisper and his patented emo style scream. It is sure to give you goose bumps while it rips your heart out. “Where the Streets Have No Name” is a surprising choice to cover on this particular album but his version is paced out in a way that makes it feel original. In this, we see the artist longing for more than this earth has to offer. When he sings “I want to be the man you made me to be . . .when I see your face, I hope to God you say you did all you could do” even the most stubborn of critics will say “amen”.
Some of the reworked songs include Underoath”s classics “Reinventing Your Exit” and “A Boy Brushed Red Living in Black and White”. Originally recorded from the heavier outfit, these songs reimagined piqued our interest. He picked these songs for a reason, and with more stripped down vocals you can only imagine why. These songs alone are worth the price of the album if you are fans of Underoath, which you should be.
The originals are outstanding and raw. “When everything you have is taken away, like a lie on your wedding day” Gillespie sings on “Raspberry Layer Cake” which he says is the “most honest song I’ve ever written . . .and I won’t talk about it”. We respect that ambiguity, but it is still transparent and heartbreaking. The album ends with the outstanding “You Don’t Love Me Anymore” which is a rock piece that will convince you to sing along with the phenomenal guitar playing and traditional rock vocals of the artist. It might be the most “produced” song on the album, but it is a near perfect exploration of a relationship imploding. With that said, the production, done by Gillespie as well, is minimal. “The production shows where I was at the time. I didn’t need any noise in my life, I didn’t need anything fake. There’s no programming,” Aaron explains. “I did it all myself. It’s as naked as I could get it to be. It’s raw and honest – it’s what I sound like at my worst, with a broken heart.”
Out of the Badlands is a rare gem that hasn’t left our earbuds this week. If you long for genuine heart exploration amidst the commercial onslaught of the rock scene, than give this a listen. Gillespie has matured into a multi-talented musician and authentic songwriter. You are sure to relate to his laments on this album. While you’re at it, check him out on tour here.