Rating: 4 Pulses
If Modest Mouse and My Morning Jacket were a family, then local band Aquariums would be their melancholy child.
This debut album, Conceptual Realizations, was released October 2007 and is the creation and first solo endeavor of Nashville local Martin Schneider. Through this project, Schneider said he hoped to portray events and emotions that have profoundly affected his life. This intense album combines some of Schneider ’s personal journeys as well as the emotional embodiment of others’ suffering. With sparse acoustic arrangements and droning vocals, this disc is definitely not one to put the kids to bed to.
Aquariums open its collection of songs with “Recall the Times,” a track that almost acts as a thesis for the album. It invites the listener to prepare for a walk through the author’s memories and the foreboding, dream-like lyrics seem to warn of dark times ahead.
The title track, “Aquariums,” has been given the credit as the inspiration for the whole album. This narrative focuses on the imprisonment of Chol-Hwan, a North Korean boy. Truly, the haunting lyrics dip into the desperation and misery he faced. “Nothing so beautiful can exist in another man’s cage/Wicked child you’ll be a wicked man/The cycle starts over again,” go the lyrics by Schneider, who has explained that this memoir induced the creative forces needed for the rest of the project.
Highlights, if one can label these austere tunes that, include “Ghosts,” with its extremely simple lyrics that help the listener venture into the mind of this artist. “Look in my window and peer through the shades/There’s not much in here and hasn’t been for days/Just the box in my attic and spoons on my floor/Come on in there’s no locks on my doors,” writes Schneider, who makes no attempts to sugarcoat his feelings. Life, after all, is sometimes barren and isolated, regardless of who is looking.
A bright spot comes in a later track, “From Home,” which actually contains hopeful lyrics. This track teams Schneider’s timbre with the silky alto vocals of Claire Adams for a particularly pleasing sound.
Although this album deals with some morose topics, it handles them maturely. One sign of an excellent songwriter is someone who can get outside of their own head, their own hang-ups and bravely delve into others’ lives; Aquariums quite poignantly deliver this. Despite the fact that Schneider’s album is a rather forlorn outlook, it never falters in painting a completely honest, if not somewhat painful, portrait of life.