Artist: Aaron Gillespie
Label: Tooth & Nail Records
Aaron Gillespie is most well known for his time as the drummer and clean vocalist for Underoath. They put out 7 studio albums before Gillespie departed from the band he co-founded in 1997 to pursue a different band, called The Almost. After 3 studio albums, Gillespie took off once again and became the drummer for Paramore.
Out of the Badlands is Gillespie’s third solo album, following two full-length worship albums. Gillespie takes a personal and unconventional approach to this album amid his recent divorce.
The ‘D word’ is used in the chorus of “Raspberry Layer Cake.” Sh*t is said once in “The Fox”, as well as the phrase ‘why the hell’ in its final chorus. Typically, I hate hearing an artist use even mild cursing in their music… but as a human being, I get it. He’s going through this extremely rough time in his life, and these words best express how he feels. It’s unfortunate, but hopefully mature listeners will find the choice understandable.
This past year has not been easy for Aaron. In his own words, Aaron states that this past year has been “a tumultuous time of life turned upside down.” The biggest struggle for Gillespie is his recent divorce. Out of the Badlands was his way of dealing with that and coping with the still painful and raw memories of what he once had. “I started writing this record when I was mourning,” he explains. “It’s been a really weird year, and healing comes differently to people. This helped me cope.”
The cover art is pretty much what you would expect from an album of this style. A badland is defined as a barren plateau region of the western United States, with harsh and heavily eroded terrain. The cover art shows a contrasting place with smooth plains where grass can grow, symbolizing that Aaron has come out of the badlands of divorce and is ready to enter something new. The album title and artist name centered on top makes this a simple, yet tasteful cover for this album.
Without the proper context, this album could be considered lazy as it features only three original songs. It consists of two cover tracks, along with new renditions from Aaron’s time with Underoath and The Almost. On the other hand, it only takes listening to Out of the Badlands once to recognize its creative and personal quality.
The album opens with the first cover, “A Boy Brushed Red… Living In Black And White,” re-imagined from the fast-paced screamo anthem to a patient acoustic track. Given all that he has gone through, Gillespie’s appeal of “This is where we both go wrong” sounds more painful than ever.
“Raspberry Layer Cake” has a bit of a different style to it than we are familiar with from Aaron Gillespie. It’s a southern, almost-country vibe. His deep, raspy voice is used to drop the sorrowful lines, “When everything you have is taken away / Like a lie on your wedding day.”
Another highlight on the album is the cover of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” Gillespie said that this song in particular, was integral to his healing process. It’s an emotionally driven, acoustic-style cover that shows Aaron’s vulnerability and angst.
“No I Don’t” is arguably the best cover from The Almost originals, changing the song from an explosive pop rock track to an indie rock song highlighted by the same infectious melody. I don’t feel that “Say This Sooner” and “Southern Weather” differ enough from the originals to warrant any type of highlight. They’re still the same catchy tunes, the main difference is that they are done in a more acoustic style.
As the album closes with “You Don’t Love Me Anymore,” not only the final song but the final original as well, the pace has picked up significantly. However, there is still some solace to be found within this more energetic original. Gillespie’s voice sounds very familiar through the soaring chorus as he extends his range to resolve the melody.
What I liked most about Out Of the Badlands are the covers. I’ll be honest, I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I noticed the two Underoath originals on the track list, but I am glad to say that I was pleasantly surprised. Even though many of us have heard these songs before, there’s an added depth and sorrow to be found in the wake of divorce. It’s interesting, to say the least, to hear songs that were written over a decade ago take on a new and powerful meaning. With the addition of the three original tracks, it’s clear where the inspiration for this album came from.
The Bottom Line
Aaron Gillespie has provided yet another extremely solid album. His raw emotions and vulnerability are apparent in the original songs and the multiple covers are very well done.