Aaron J. Burke, based out of Greenville, South Carolina, released his latest album, Young Pier Jumpers, on November 17, 2023. All instruments were played, recorded, and mixed by Aaron, save for the ‘Word of Love’ section on “Flutes of Engagement,” where Reuben Knights(who also released TWO fantastic albums this year) plays lead guitar, drums, and bass. The record was mastered by Jay Matheson of Jam Room fame.
You may know Aaron through his work in the local post-punk/art punk band, Gláss, where he plays guitar and was on vocals. Lori, the guitarist for Ruth in the Bardo at the time, as well as being one of my favorite people and a musical mentor, showed me Gláss. I was blown away. In 2020 when the world shut down, they released their third full-length album Wilting in Mauve. It was probably the bleakest yet most emotional album I’ve listened to locally at the time. The structure and genre-hopping the band does from shoegaze to post-punk to free-jazz and back again while still shattering my soul just completely set the bar at a new high. I went around telling people Gláss was the best band to come out of South Carolina. Sadly, Gláss still is on a very long hiatus but they are working on a solo album that will hopefully be released soon. Months passed, and my bandleader, Zac, sent a gig proposal to our band chat asking if we were available to play on 1/13 with Aaron Burke. I had no idea who he was. After Zac followed it up with “he’s the lead singer of Gláss, legendary Greenville band,” I was taken aback, and extremely excited about the opportunity to work with him. Aaron contacted me to let me know his solo album was complete and asked if I would like to hear it. Duh. Of course I did.
Aaron let me know that he initially set out to make a really simple album. Seriously. “2-3 chords. Slow jangly pop stuff.” That was out the window when he started writing songs such as “The Snitch” and “In the Parking Lot.” One song had particular significance to Aaron, “From Troon to Larne," which was written following the birth of his oldest daughter. It also happens to be the transitory song of the album, unifying the first half which is themed ‘Above Water’ and the second half of the album being ‘Under Water.’
“Out of Baulk” begins the album with crashing drums and tremolo picking, wracking our nerves. This chord progression was written back in 2013, when he would end Ice Cream Social sets, which, admittedly, was stolen from “Empty Cans” by The Streets. Towards the half-point in the song, the theme for Young Pier Jumpers is established. For those of you that don't know, the word baulk is associated with danger, such as a baulk in the game Snooker or a baulk in an archaeological excavation, which is a bulk of earth that is traditionally dangerous to stand on. The themes introduced in this song and that follow through the album represent Aaron's desire to recall his past, before stepping back out of the area of being heard and listened to, and back into his memory. The second track, “Maternal Frills” features some of the best lyrics on the album, delving into little revelations like how everyone is half their parents' age, twice. But there’s also vivid imagery about pier jumpers that the album is named after and mountainous tractors harvesting seaweed for mascara. “Concrete Terms" is a short song and was written in a short time, too. Very reminiscent of REM, The Stranglers, and The Moles, all three found in the playlist that Aaron created as the “scaffolding” of the album.
“Freedom to Roam,” the lead single off of the album sounds exactly like its title. Gaelic harmony soars and the final verse is a beautiful read. There’s some double meaning to the title as well, Aaron seems to also want to have the “freedom to roam” from himself as well. It's up there for one of my favorite tracks off the album.
Right after is my favorite track though, “The Snitch.” We start off with an acoustic arpeggiating under Aaron’s Irish-tinged vocals as more of the arrangements come into the scene. It has a really great guitar groove throughout, and then the last verse with the layered vocals and album theme, it's fantastic. That's not the only song with a sudden switch-up though! The next track, “Flutes of Engagement” features a similar structure, much more optimistic though. Aaron details the week of his engagement, when he took his wife to Ireland, the same week as the first Irish papal visit in fifty years. Common colds and hangovers run amuck, some broken down automobiles, burnt bacon, and stringent fire alarms.
The next song on the album, “From Troone to Larne,” is about the ferry route Aaron would use to travel from Scotland to Ireland. This song seems to place the listener on the water with the inclusion of distorted guitar riffs. This track also serves as the ocean skin I suppose from the “Above Water” first half into the “submerged” second half. This track finds Aaron recollecting his questioning, his searching, his pursuit of a major life decision. One of the most vulnerable tracks on the album, an easy pick for the “best” track.
As we reach the second half of the album, we are fully beneath the water as we transition into “The Inner Court.” The first guitar riff seems bright and hopeful, but also questioning, sounding very similar to Eastern Seaboard. This track was written after a hotel stay with his wife. It was initially supposed to be the same song as “Outside the Courts of Erasure,” but now it serves the purpose of the identity of memory to be almost like an outsider looking in, perspective is everything. “Particulars” was written about two businesses in the Greenville area, with a sonic shift as we go into Aaron’s perspective with an ominous yet nonchalant vocal, critiquing business owners, how they don’t feel human, and how he’ll never show a work in progress again.
“In the Parking Lot” begins with a pretty crazy chord and Aaron recounts the story of a hunting dog being let loose in the Cherrydale parking lot, probably his most southern song lyrically, mentioning cicadas and hollerin’ and being outgunned. “Oats” is the oldest song on the album, even though it only has two chords. It was inspired by a Skip Spence lyric that says, “better to be rolled in oats, than from the roll be dropped.” One and the same according to Aaron, so the majority of the time was consumed trying to come up with phrases that weren’t cliché that were also one and the same. This is the most synth-heavy track, good atmosphere on this one. We finish with the return to the thematic album riff on the final song “Back to Baulk,” where Aaron’s mission is complete.
This journey of memories reminds me of how much of a treasure Aaron is to the scene here, with this album that is learned, worldly folk music disguised by jangle-pop and college rock instrumentals.
To find out more about Aaron J. Burke, you can find him via social media or the following links below
Transition from Latin to composed music. Trying to get ahead of the curve. Some of the most important artists are inspired by contemporary composers, Miles Davis and Stockhausen, Bill Evans and Debussy, John Lennon and Beethoven, Pachelbel and everyone who has used his infamous chord progression, and countless more. So, I offer this time slot as a study for what composers of today are writing for myself in my own works, as well as aspiring or practicing musicians in the scene here for inspiration themselves.