Over the past decade, Lansdale, Pennsylvania pop-punk act The Wonder Years has slowly grown from playing energetic easycore in local VFW halls, to inspiring hope to thousands in massive clubs all over the world. The trick to the band’s success lies in their ability to write personal, hard-hitting lyrics, thoroughly catchy hooks and chord progressions, and put on one of the best live shows in their genre. However, while the writing style of frontman Dan Campbell has been consistently strong over the years, he’s been stuck to a style that only paints a picture of his own experiences when writing for the band. In the artist’s latest side project, Aaron West And The Roaring Twenties, Campbell explores his potential when writing in the world of fiction (in the vein of The Mountain Goats or The Hold Steady!), as opposed to non-fiction. The result is the band’s first studio album We Don’t Have Each Other (Hopeless Records), a wonderful, dense character study into the life and times of Aaron West – a man who’s, simply put, having the worst year of his life.
What makes the album an exceptional look into the subject’s psyche is how well Campbell develops the character of Aaron West, taking the time to make the audience connect with his experiences. Throughout We Don’t Have Each Other, West struggles with the loss of loved ones (“Divorce & the American South”), his faith (“Get Me Out of Here Alive”), relationship woes (“You Ain’t No Saint”) and how they’ve all led to his downfall over the year. Because the record’s greatest strengths lie within the lyricism, it becomes much more accessible for listeners to relate to the character Campbell has created. In the music department, the record is excellent as well. The acoustic/alt-country shift in style the band has taken is a well-suited change, as opposed to The Wonder Years’ straight-forward, hard-hitting pop-punk. The record has a pleasant ebb-and-flow that takes the listener through soft ballads, high-tempo gallops and everything in between. Campbell’s varied guitarwork isn’t the only music that deserves praise, however. Wonder Years drummer Michael Kennedy gives a spirited performance, as well The Early November frontman Ace Enders on production duties. Both hit just the right now necessary to make We Don’t Have Each Other the record it needs to be. Overall, Aaron West & the Roaring 20’s is the perfect next step for Campbell to show off his lyrical chops, and all should look forward to next chance he gets to show them off.