Album Review – American Aquarium’s “Burn.Flicker.Die.”

December 18, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  17 Comments

american-aquariumRight now there’s a gaggle of Southern rock bands that are tapping into some serious, serious songwriting manna, and that includes this offering from North Carolina’s American Aquarium combining cutting poeticism with primal rock sounds. With such a cerebral void in mainstream country today, with country’s next generation of male performers spewing laundry list pap similar to how the water buffalo marks its territory by spinning its tail and shooting scat out of its hind quarters, it has fallen to Southern rock bands among others to release songs with country sensibilities that still include songwriting substance.

Burn. Flicker. Die accosts this very cultural divide in the song “St. Mary’s”, sporting the line, “Where American girls drink Mexican beer, and city boys sing small town hymns.” There’s a slew of those stellar lines on Burn.Flicker.Die that can be culled out of context and still be cutting; more of them than possibly on any album I’ve heard this year. American Aquarium bull rushes you with substance from the very beginning.

It was produced by former Drive By Trucker turned solo artist Jason Isbell, and deserves high praise for capturing the sweat and frustration of a band on their 6th album still stuck in a van, even though they seem to be surrounded by tremendous loyalty and critical praise. These songs are tributes to American decay, depravity, excess, and unfairness, with starkly honest lyrics not dulled one bit by subtly, or sullied by the need for explanation or imagination. Burn. Flicker. Die is not an artistic interpretation of American Aquarium’s struggles, it is a Polaroid.

american-aquarium-burn-flicker-dieYou’re supposed to listen to songs, and feel music. With American Aquarium, you do both. It’s balls out head banging, and depth-driven balladry all in one. It’s classic, Southern rock at its core, but the country elements come out strong in spots, like the fiddle intro to “Lonely Ain’t Easy”; a song that at its heart is country in its lyrical structure. The album is set in the South, from the “Cape Fear River” opener, to “Jacksonville”, to the themes of breaking out of the small town rut only to fall in to the shallowness of cities and substance abuse. “Burn. Flicker. Die” is an analogy to neon–a staple of rural America–and how the life of those signs that set the ambiance for bar rooms in multitudes of forgotten locales mimic the life of a traveling band as they’re touching 30 and getting tired of the grind.

These songs are the brain child of Bradley Barham who sports a Southern accent as rich as a sundae. Instrumentation isn’t stellar, but it fits the dirty vibe of the songs, and they will surprise you at times with their attention to composition, like the jam on the end of the otherwise average “Jacksonville” that ends abruptly. They have that mid 70’s Rolling Stones “Hear the music through the sweat” thing going on strong.

Burn.Flicker.Die does deteriorate somewhat as you go along. The chorus payoff on the song “Casualties” is a little corny. “I’m just a casualty of rock and roll,” seems more appropriate for a spandexed singer to serenade a stadium full of girls with perms and scrunchies with who are trying not to burn their finger’s as the wave their boyfriend’s Bic back and forth. There’s no payoff, moral, or resolution to the Burn.Flicker.Die concept at the end. No steadfast statement about continuing on, getting clean, doing things different. Just more songs about the drug and booze-infused rock and roll road life.

American Aquarium is one of these bands that you sit back and listen to and shake you head about why they aren’t bigger. At the same time an excellent album like this is a product of that dilemma. There’s nothing keeping them from gaining wider appeal than more attention, and more attention is what they deserve.

1 3/4 of 2 guns up.

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Purchase Burn. Flicker. Die from American Aquarium

You can listen to the complete album on their website or on MySpace.

Burn. Flicker. Die. from Mikey Livingston on Vimeo.

17 Comments to “Album Review – American Aquarium’s “Burn.Flicker.Die.””

  • First time I’ve ever heard BJ called Bradley. Pretty funny.


  • Great review, as always. You wrote: “Right now there’s a gaggle of Southern rock bands that are tapping into some serious, serious songwriting manna.” Of course, this includes American Aquarium.

    Who else do you think is a part of this gaggle of Southern Rock Bands?

    We can obviously point out the easy ones like DBT and Jason Isbell, but who are the “new southern rock bands?” I for one have been listening to Truckstop Darlin all year long and they have my album of the year vote. Anyways, Trigger if you or any readers can help with who the new face is, I would like to check out some new bands.


    • Blackberry Smoke for one….


    • The Sons of Bill definitely also fit into that gaggle of Southern Rock bands with songwriting manna…


    • Glossary, maybe?


    • Those are good examples, Moonrunners put up a good list of “modern southern rock” bands, but I felt it was lacking.



    • Sons of Bill, Blackberry Smoke, Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires, Wrinkle Neck Mules, Alabama Shakes.

      Glossary is a great one. If you ever get a chance to see them with Austin Lucas, don’t pass it up. I think they may be backing him up on his next album.

      There’s more but that’s a start.


    • Little late to this thread… but I would recommend Band of Heathens’ live albums. Their studio efforts don’t have quite the same energy, and they recently lost a member, so I am not sure whether to expect great things. Might not be gritty enough for some SCM fans, but they write some great songs with country, blues and soul influences.


    • Lincoln Durham, Uncle Lucius and Scott Biram


  • Great Review of one of the most criminally overlooked albums of the year outside of alt-country blogs like 9 bullets or Captains Dead. Top 3 for me. Certainly Glossary is one of these bands. I’d add Lucero, probably the most successful besides DBT. The Only Son’s, who sadly broke up this year. Magnolia Mountain is another great one. Also, although they are from Boston and not the south, Girls, Guns and Glory is a force to be reckoned with.


  • Sons of Bill is absolutely one of the best bands going. I’ve never understood why they don’t get more love from this site. I know the Triggerman likes to keep the scope of the site focused, but once we are reviewing and talking about Jason Isbell and American Aquarium, it seems to me that we are firmly in SoB territory.


    • Like many things it’s a time issue. I’m frustrated there hasn’t been more Sons of Bill talk on here either. So many bands, so little time. We’ll get on that…


  • Great album, great review!


  • LOVE Sons of Bill! Happy to see them get a mention on here.


  • Love these guys. To me, they sound like a Southern, twanged up Gaslight Anthem. Lucero had a great album that they put out this year, for those looking for similar music, although like JTE it’s heavy on that Memphis sound and horns are plenty. I got into alternative and traditional country on this type of stuff, and I hope bands like AA keep putting it out.


  • Uncle Lucius is a band to check out, they nail it! Band of Heathens seem to be getting pretty lightweight. Going to check out Sons of Bill right now.


  • Luckily I got to see these guys with Tunpike Troubadours last weeks, and instantly became a fan. Great sound, great lyrics, and great stage presence. If these guys are in my area I’m seeing them for sure.


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