Desert Life: ‘Fear Caller’ by The Almost

Album Content Note: Language

Early this fall, The Almost came exploding back into the scene after a six year absence with a new single. A surprise full-length album followed closely behind, with Fear Caller dropping on October 18.

A lot has happened in Aaron Gillespie’s life since the release of Fear Inside Our Bones in 2013: he drummed for Paramore. He released two solo albums, one worship, one largely sparse, haunting covers. He reunited with Underoath. He went through a transition in his spirituality (and navigated the resulting intense public scrutiny and criticism).

It’s no surprise, then, that Fear Caller is not like anything The Almost brand has produced before. “Chokehold” tipped us off to that reality with its desolate instrumentation and searching lyrics:

“I come alive in the darkness
I come alive when I’m honest
I come alive when I can’t see what is in front of me
I come alive in a chokehold.”

Aaron has shared that he recorded the entire album in the desert outside of Joshua Tree, helming guitar, drums, bass, and vocals himself, and everything from the instrumental arrangements to the lyrics themselves seem stepped in that kind of dry wildness.

Take the darkly reflective “Life,” a song that struggles against the transactional demands often embedded deep in cultural and religious systems. The song feels like it comes from simpler days of rock and roll, leaning on the raw tone of drums and electric guitar without production frills. “Ain’t No King” rides raucous riffs that might bring you back to The Almost’s debut album.

A simple production style allows the true pulse of this album to run unrestrained on upbeat tracks like “Tame a Lion,” which introduces a saxophone solo– something that might sound incongruous with everything you know of The Almost, and yet somehow fits perfectly. The take on U2’s “In God’s Country” feels similarly organic and alive in a way rock music has sorely missed.

Thematically, the songs on Fear Caller tells the truth about the experience of being alive– which is to say, it is forthright also about the deaths we die. “I Think I Am” is an album highlight, a visceral autobiographical track that finds itself in a place of terrible isolation:

On my island I have everything I need:
Fear, death and anxiety

“I Want it Real” deconstructs platitudes and facades, screaming for the truth. “I Won’t Miss” is a rock and roll love song, confessional in a way that is both startlingly honest and also surprisingly endearing. Title track “Fear Caller” is the sound of desert shadows coming for a soul, demanding to be acknowledged– maybe even accepted as an inevitable part of the terrain of life, as “Who Do You Bother Me?” suggests.

Speculation about Aaron’s personal spiritual journey have massively overshadowed this project. However, to center on that feels both personally invasive, and also like a bit of a crime in that what the album actually is gets shifted out of focus. Here’s what Fear Caller is not: it’s not clear-cut answers or didacticism, and it’s not playing by anyone’s formulas. Instead, this is an album that musically offers all the dynamic and muscle of a rippling wasteland, a seemingly desolate place that actually homes some of the most tenacious wildlife on our planet. In The Almost’s Fear Caller, the desert is wild and split open like a rock and roll song, with all the subtle joys and tragedies of life itself exploding through the cracks.

You can find Fear Caller on Apple Music and Spotify.

Related Artists: Underoath, Emery

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