Aaron Gillespie is nothing if not accomplished as a songwriter. His band Underoath has thus far been nominated for three separate Grammies. Another band of his, The Almost, has played with Jane’s Addiction and Faith No More amongst other alternative heavyweights. The Almost entered the public eye in 2007, and for his 2019 release Fear Caller, Aaron took to the desert for inspiration on how to approach his debut release on the coincidentally-named Fearless Records; citing the location to be “the very source of creation” in line with the view of innumerable historical texts.
Indeed, Fear Caller does start on a rather open and empty note; not in a negative context implying void of creativity or substance but simply the mental image the opening song in itself conveys. “Chokehold”, with its atmospheric vibe with lo-fi drums splashed on top is the ideal soundtrack to walking through a desolate desert landscape after dark, looking up at the stars and the moon above the mountains. It bursts into full, sunny life in the choruses, but it is rather fitting that Gillespie muses “I come alive in the darkness” when the hook kicks in. “I Want It Real” teases a much more energetic, uptempo tune akin to speeding down the highway through the Coachella Valley before breaking into a slick and polished chorus much akin to the one on “Chokehold”, showing a strong production and a stronger ability to pen refined and ready songs for the public.
“Tame A Lion” continues to expand the album’s established dynamic, with a punchier and poppier edge and a catchy bass line to boot this time around. The grand majority of the song is vivid and full of life; unfortunately it’s marred by a tragically out of place saxophone solo where a guitar solo would have made it bloody near perfect. Where “Tame” evokes the picture of Gillespie running through an open, cracked desert land, “Over And Underneath” is more evocative of driving through that same land in a top-down convertible at dusk with its (pardon the expression) driving groove and high-velocity precedent. “Life” starts off brooding and ominous, graduating into a pounding, dragging grind sonically synonymous with a man on his last leg (perhaps dying in the desert), using whatever strength he can muster to overcome the odds.
“Fire” rebounds from the manic and testing to the ethereal, sounding pretty much like Filter’s “Hey Man, Nice Shot” with a catchier and less aggressive chorus. “I Think I Am” is lyrically and musically more of the standard anxious and isolated fare this record has to offer, picking up where Simon and Garfunkel left off by stating “No man is an island… but I think I am.” “Ain’t No King” turns up the anger to a reasonable 6 or 7 while attacking a faceless arrogant detractor, the bass rattling and rumbling the entire way to much additional effect. “In God’s Country”, a cover of the U2 song off The Joshua Tree (quite fitting for this album’s inspirational context) is a breath of fresh air, scorching, rejuvenating vocals and new grooves, making this rendition just as anthemic and epic as Bono had intended it in 1987. One can imagine the sun beaming down on Gillespie in the vast midst of fuck-all nowhere in the Mojave Desert, stretching his arms to soak in all the renewed life the almighty brightness has to offer as this tune blares out.
“I Won’t Miss” starts on a relaxed, lonesome yet suspenseful note, coloured by a healthy streak of optimism as it builds gradually into a full-blown wall of gazing, floating musical electricity. “Fear Caller” is comparatively short in contrast to many of the other tracks on the album, starting off on a haunting note: “I am the fear caller, and I’ve come to eat your heart.” The imagery this time around is more along the lines of a full mooned night in an empty abyss of desert land as the cold wind blows, building up more and more towards a chilling, yelling peak before fading away with the dust and grit. “Why Do You Bother Me” picks up and continues this vibe, providing some especially dark verses before blowing into full light and life once more and ending out with all the angst Gillespie and his crew can muster.
What Fear Caller goes to show is that Aaron Gillespie has earned every bit of recognition and Grammy attention that he has gained thus far, and deserves more. The record shows remarkable songwriting capacity and top-shelf industry production, and the obvious ability to transmute vision and muse into song in a way that even the listener can see in his mind without the assistance of a music video. It isn’t a record that revolutionizes anything or reinvents the wheel, but it is certainly a well-put together, stick-out type of record from the increasingly vaster sea of stuff that’s out there.