[Editor's Note: Best Album Ever is a column where critics talk about their favorite records and what was happening in their lives when they got into them.]
It was 2010 and I was pulling out of our family's driveway, headed to my summer job at a grocery store. My dad was coming home from his nine-to-five. We pulled up next to each other and rolled our windows down. With the succinctness of a weather report, he informed me that he and my mother were getting a divorce. I stared at him for a beat too long, drove off, and began playing Every Time I Die's New Junk Aesthetic as loud as I could.
You may not have heard of the Buffalo-born band, nor of New Junk Aesthetic, but it was like my personal In Utero: Brutal, whip-smart discontent to a metalcore soundtrack, full of breakneck drumming, blistering guitars and larynx-shredding screams. It sounded like how I felt in these years, before and after my dad's announcement, when I was hundreds of miles away at college at the University of Arizona. Every time I returned home, my familial life had disintegrated even further. There were more cracks in the foundation.
Rory, my younger brother by four years, afflicted by cerebral palsy and in high school at the time, was subjected to all of this daily. I felt an inability to help him deal with what the family breakdown was putting him through. He too withdrew into music, and we bonded over Every Time I Die.
We'd spend hours when we should have been studying watching videos of the band's hijinks, like vocalist Keith Buckley walking in on his underwear-clad band replacing his vocals in the studio, or cameraman Doug Spangenberg interrupting Buckley's candlelit writing process. We eagerly anticipated the release of New Junk Aesthetic in September 2009, even postponing listening to the single "The Marvelous Slut" until we could do so together in person. Clocking in at just under two minutes, it was the perfect melding of angular guitar riffs and self-deprecating lyrics.
As for the album itself: Even after just hearing opener "Roman Holiday," I knew the work would be one of my favorites. Featuring just four chords and an octave shift, it was about as heavy as anything I'd heard, brilliant and simple. Its catchiness lies in its stripped-down melody and driving tempo like a battle march. The record flies by in just 38 minutes: The violent "The Marvelous Slut," the blistering "For The Record," the philosophical "Turtles All The Way Down"...
Yet Rory and I kept coming back to "Roman Holiday."
At its core, vocalist Keith Buckley speaks of the demons behind facades and the nature of human greed -- about wanting more at any cost. He was screaming the things we wanted to say to our parents, who seemed to be hellbent on saving their own necks in the middle of a messy split. For them, it was about gaining satisfaction, whether financially or emotionally. For Rory and me, it was about keeping our heads down, trying to stay out of the crossfire.
In the summer following New Junk Aesthetic's release we formed a small metal band with Rory on drums, me on guitar, and our neighbor Jeremy on vocals. We covered "Roman Holiday," opening with it at VFW halls and dingy venues. Rory was only 15 at the time but played with the presence of someone older, channeling his aggression into his playing. It felt right, our onstage catharsis.
New Junk Aesthetic vocalized what we couldn't. When Rory and I finally saw Every Time I Die together last March at the Rialto Theatre in Tucson, it felt like we were the only people in the room. It was just him and me. As soon as the first New Junk Aesthetic track hit -- "Wanderlust" -- we were screaming back at the band together, him and me against the world.
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