Perhaps best known for his production and songwriting work with a multitude of artists over the past two decades, Aaron Sprinkle's vastly underrated solo projects should remain anything but unnoticed. Since releasing 2013's excellent Water & Guns after a long (solo career) hiatus, Sprinkle has been quite busy. Regardless of his other commitments, he has yet again delivered gold with his latest offering, Real Life.
The album opens with "Invincible," a melancholic '80s-style electro-dance piece featuring Elle Puckett on guest vocals. It's not the album's strongest offering, but it does a fair enough job of setting up the next nine tracks. It also succeeds in serving as a representation of what listeners can expect from Real Life.
Things pick up melodically by the time "Never Alone" rolls around, with catchy hooks and lyrics grabbing the listener's attention. The title track, "Real Life," features husband and wife duo Max Bemis and Sherry Dupree-Bemis (of Eisley). It's a great track, but is a step beyond quirky. Its lyrics are confusing ("save my birthright till I'm feeling up again / when I'm out the door and you get control / then you can take it in you can't help ignore / you wouldn't let me in / but this is real life") and its pacing and structure are even more so. The fact that Sprinkle made this piece work so well attests to his qualities as a producer; very few artists could have pulled off a song this complex.
"Not Listening" is one the best tracks on the album. It sounds as though it has a home on Water & Guns, and its lyrics are crisp and refreshing: "There's an ocean In this room and I'm the anchor tied to you / it's harder to walk by while you're sleeping / with the sound of the floor below me creaking / if the circle bends and shame begins again: I'm not listening / if the voices call from places I have been: I'm not listening." The melody and atmosphere are equally cutting, easily making for an album highlight. "Someday" continues this trend, also scoring a top slot on Real Life. His decision to feature Matty Mullins helped make this simple track into a masterpiece.
"I Don't Know Who You Are" features Stephanie Skipper (AKA Gotee Records solo artist Stephanie Smith) on guest vocals and is something of a minimalist (lyrically speaking) piece. It's most certainly catchy, though, and is the third alum highlight in a row. The electronic melody is a bit of a throwback, but if you can handle it, this gem just might be for you. "Wander" closes out the album on a somber note. It's the perfect closing track with lyrics that leave the listener feeling ever so slightly haunted: "I know you thought we were together / you hoped we made it through / but now my mind will always wander / wander back to you."
In truth, the only thing holding this album back is a lack of depth in both musical complexity and thematic (and technical) songwriting which were seen previously in Sprinkle's earlier projects. The spiritual themes are mostly veiled, and any serious attempt at application would constitute an overreaching of interpretation. Real Life also feels about two songs too short. One of Real Life's greatest strengths is found in its guest artists. They help to add an extra layer of texture, without outshining Sprinkle or being used in excess. While Real Life may not be Sprinkle's very best project, it is most decidedly an excellent addition to his discography and is worth diving into.- Review date: 5/21/17, written by David Craft of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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