Album Review: Aaron Gillespie’s “Out of the Badlands”
Before this review begins, full disclosure: I have been a fan of the band Underoath, of The Almost, and of the two band’s connecting piece, Aaron Gillespie, for over a decade now.
The first time I heard Underoath was listening to They’re Only Chasing Safety in a friend’s car after another strenuous day of high school. I was immediately taken by the band’s mix of Gillespie’s clean vocals and the guttural screams of Spencer Chamberlain.
While I was busy enjoying the 2006 masterpiece Define the Great Line, the band began to fall apart. Inner-turmoil had left Gillespie feeling abandoned and the band began to disagree more and more. After 2008’s Lost in the Sound of Separation, Gillespie would be gone. Underoath would make one more album before the final collapse while Gillespie moved on to form The Almost and to release his own solo recordings.
While it seemed Underoath was gone forever, the band reunited in 2015 to headline the Self Help Fest in San Bernardino, CA. While it remains to be seen whether Underoath will record another album, Gillespie’s Out of the Badlands, set for release August 19, not only satiates my fan thirst for more music, but provides an entirely new experience.
Out of the Badlands contains Gillespie’s solo stripped-down versions of Underoath, The Almost, U2, and Bonnie Raitt as well as his own original tracks. As a longtime fan of Gillespie’s, I wanted to enjoy this album.
Gillespie made that job very easy.
While most albums this packed full of covers could be viewed as a weaker outing by the artist, Gillespie has done an excellent job of not just creating acoustic versions of songs, but of remaking these songs in completely unexpected ways.
This reimagination is obvious from the get-go. Beginning with “A Boy Brushed Red Living in Black and White,” Underoath’s trademark heavy sound is replaced with sparse guitar and light basic drums. Gillespie’s vocals are significantly downplayed, almost to the point that a casual listener may not immediately recognize this as the fan favorite from They’re Only Chasing Safety. Despite the softer vocals, there seems to be as much if not more passion behind the singing.
Pulling from the same album, track seven shows Gillespie turning Underoath’s “Reinventing Your Exit” into a more upbeat folk-tinged song. Both Underoath selections unsurprisingly show Gillespie focusing more on the melodic elements that brought the band into the mainstream than the band’s more frenetic post-hardcore sounds. The transition of these songs allows them to remain somewhat familiar while at the same time becoming something entirely different.
The same cannot be said of The Almost’s tunes that have made their way onto the collection. “No I Don’t” and “Say This Sooner” are almost completely faithful versions of the originals, the main change coming through more stripped back instrumentation that replaces the full band on both songs. While the differences may not be as stark as the tracks from They’re Only Chasing Safety, these songs fit perfectly in this album and, as fans already know, showcase some of Gillespie’s best songwriting.
“Southern Weather” stands apart from the other songs from this era of Gillespie’s career. While the 2006 recording was one of The Almost’s biggest straight-forward rockers, a decade has given this song a more laid back vibe that allows the lyrics to stand out.
The cover of the U2 classic “Where The Streets Have No Name” is well done, but it’s Gillespie’s version of “Can’t Make You Love Me” that is a must listen. Covering blues singer Bonnie Raitt might catch many of Gillespie’s long term fans off-guard, but “Can’t Make You Love Me” stands out as one of the most emotional tracks on the album. It showcases the feelings that Gillespie had likely gone through during his divorce earlier this year in a beautifully vulnerable way.
“This is the healing process, this record, and the making of it pulled me through,” Gillespie has said of Out of the Badlands. ”Can’t Make You Love Me” seems to be the epitome of this.
Original tracks “The Fox” and “You Don’t Love Me Anymore,” the album’s last track, pick this theme up. On “The Fox,” Gillespie declares that the devil has been tearing him apart while “You Don’t Love Me Anymore” shows him realizing that, despite giving it his all, his efforts in the relationship have missed the mark.
If these two songs show him examining the end of a relationship, “Raspberry Layer Cake” shows him preparing to restart. While it may not seem like an optimistic song on the surface, its focus on starting over makes it clear that Gillespie sees a brighter future.
It’s safe to say that Out of the Badlands, despite consisting of mostly covers and reworked songs, is somehow a very raw and personal album. This album may have proven therapeutic for Gillespie, but through his honesty, it will certainly speak to those fans who have been around since his Underoath days as well as listeners who have yet to discover Gillespie.
Whether the future of Underoath will bring forth more music or not does not matter. With this album, Gillespie has made it known he is more than the drummer of a post-hardcore band or the lead singer of The Almost.
With Out of the Badlands, Gillespie proves that, as a singer-songwriter, he is a force in his own right.
Out of the Badlands is set for release August 19 and is available for preorder now.