The latest release by Raleigh’s American Aquarium finds beauty in defeat. Burn. Flicker. Die. is the sixth studio album by the alt-country quintet, although it sounds like the sixteenth. But although bandleader and vocalist BJ Barham he’s past his rock ‘n’ roll prime, the way he expresses this sentiment proves quite the opposite.
Burn. Flicker. Die. is a solid roots record. Produced by Jason Isbell of the Drive-By Truckers, it’s accessible and catchy, with a few anthems to small town life and girls in bars. But it also shows a level of darkness and a degree self-deprecating honesty and introspection in its lyricism.
In a southern drawl, Barham laments the passing of the “better part of his early twenties,” and he’s still years away from 30. He makes it clear that the lifespan of a struggling musician is short. On “Casualties” he calls himself a “casualty of rock ‘n’ roll.” After burning and flickering, the flame of his musical dream is dying.
But the slow songs like “Harmless Sparks” and “Jacksonville” that let his disillusionment honestly flourish are the pinnacles of Burn. Flicker. Die. As Barham allows his voice to relax in his lower registers, sporadic steel guitar and piano phrases frame his emotion. And admitting that he’s sad just makes him more human than his younger self.
Burn. Flicker. Die. is a well-received addition to American Aquarium repertoire. Barham has always been able to write soundtracks to bar nights — now he has songs for the mornings after.