English’s Language

From http://www.aaronenglish.com

Ah, Seattle, home of Starbucks, the Space Needle, and grunge. Since its inception more than 20 years ago, the Emerald City has been associated with the angst-saturated sounds of modern rock’s wrong turn down a dark alley.

Thankfully there is a new generation of musical artists who are helping our area become known for more than quilted plaid shirts and scuffed Doc Martens.

I can appreciate the talent of some of grunge’s pioneers—I’m a huge fan of some of their more recent projects. But many grunge songs, to me, sound mostly like grinding guitars imitating a lactose-intolerant digestive system during a 104 degree fever while someone’s throwing cast iron skillets at a hollow whiskey barrel in a damp basement.

One of our hometown artists who is becoming internationally known for his unique sound is Aaron English. I have had the privilege of watching Aaron’s talent develop since an early age, and he is helping redefine Seattle’s signature sounds. While you can’t pigeonhole his music—it doesn’t fit in any one category—in an interview a few months ago he tossed the term “granola goth” into the ring.

I could amble off into a detailed analysis of English’s style, using catchy mainstream terms like folk-infused and Afro-Celtic. I could launch into a monologue about how I hear echoes of Cheb Mami and David Byrne. But any music critic can do that.

This is Aaron’s language, his own translation of the human experience. When you plug in to his harmonies, you’re listening to the man, not just the music. His keyboard is his pulpit and he believes what he’s singing down to the tips of his sandy brown hair.

English’s first album came out in 2002, All the Waters of This World. It had a decidedly world beat flavor to certain songs that caught my attention. This work utilized the talents of some very versatile musicians and diverse instruments. Deep Blue Quiet Places is the track I never tire of while strolling through this garden of auditory wildflowers.

The Marriage of the Sun and the Moon was English’s 2007 release. This album seemed more personal, affording listeners a glance into the inner workings of the man manipulating the keys. While it’s Like Smoke that appeals to my stylistic palate the most, my favorite Aaron English song of all came from this album, God Bless You and Your Man.

The lyrics, at least at face value, speak to the absurdity of a woman returning to her cheating, on again, off again lover while she has a quality man right in front of her. This is a subject that many of us adults have dealt with, so I appreciate the humor and honesty. It’s one of those songs you’ll find yourself belting out when a bad memory decides to stick its pointy fingernail into your amygdala.

2009 was almost the end of English’s career. According to his website, his tour bus crashed and he lost most of his equipment. Knowing the weapons he carries in his arsenal, the thought is sickening (but of course dwarfed by the reality of what happened to him and his people). Supporters wouldn’t hear of him stopping though, and he fought his way back, unleashing his third album, American [fever] Dream last year. It is getting international play.

When I first heard volume three, I thought, “good heavens, it sounds like Simon and Garfunkel.” But then I kept listening, and I heard a little bit of this, and a little bit of that, an assortment of songs like the first two albums. Even if it wasn’t entirely my flavor, I recognized its appeal and why this, more than his other albums, is putting him on the map.

Once I had completed the journey I realized that American [fever] Dream was like a pie. A piece of pumpkin, a piece of cherry, a piece of mincemeat, and so on, all blanketed by one giant golden top crust of introspection and reflection. Somehow it all fit together, the next step in the evolution of this daring hometown talent.

While I tend to like All The Waters of This World best because of its energy and rhythm, there is one song on American [fever] Dream that stands out for me personally, Believe. It is in Believe that I hear Aaron the most, that I am reminded of the intellect and the deliciously twisted uniqueness of his personality.

Believe takes me back about twenty years to the dimly lit buzz of a school auditorium. At a time when some of us musically-involved kids were tape recording ourselves on upright pianos and borrowed synths, Aaron went onstage with a computer and an assistant. I was riveted. While I was no stranger to Aaron’s proclivity for performing, I thought, “when did he start doing that?”

Later that night I was treated to an impromptu solo performance of a Billy Joel song on piano, which cracks me up because sometimes I hear that influence in his music too. Somehow I wound up as the coat rack that evening and almost forgot to give him back his jacket because I was having such a good time.

One line in Believe says simply, “believe in me.” It’s something every human being wants, someone to truly, honestly believe in them and what they are doing. There is so much pressure in this world to conform, to placate the jealous and insecure critics that try to beat the exceptional people down.

Thankfully a lot of people believe in Aaron, but I have a feeling that even if he was all alone in his cornucopia of composition, he’d still be himself and wouldn’t change to suit anyone.

Aaron’s friends and fans love him because he’s always been himself and has let his many muses guide him, not the whims of pop culture. Over and over we’ve seen so-called artists get a signature hairstyle, wiggle their hind end around on stage, and say “oh” and “baby” a lot, culminating in multi-platinum albums.

But Aaron—he is sincere. He is real, raw and refined at the same time, like many of his influences, conjuring up riddles, reasoning in rhymes. Regardless of the degree to which each of his songs appeals to me, or any philosophical differences, I believe. I know where he came from and it’s clear where he’s going.

Thanks to his hard work, and refusal to get knocked down when life has thrown its grenades, tens of thousands of other people believe as well. Those numbers will keep growing as his roots remain intertwined with the rhododendrons and he keeps channeling untreated Salish salt water into the largely bottled water-fed stream of American music.

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Aaron’s website: http://www.aaronenglish.com/index.html

Aaron’s Myspace page:
http://www.myspace.com/theaaronenglishband

Aaron’s Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/aaronenglishmusic

October 2010 Interview with Aaron: http://www.redhotvelvet.co.uk/interviews/interview-aaron-english/

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Good timber does not grow stronger with ease; the stronger the wind the stronger the trees. –Douglas Malloch

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©2011 H. Hiatt/wildninja.wordpress.com. All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/wildninja.wordpress.com.

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