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Anywhere off Hatteras Island, Chicamacomico sounds made up, like some wine-drunk incantation or maybe a tongue twister—try to say it ten times fast. But as a former life-saving station built in 1874 on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the name is perhaps the perfect metaphor and title for American Aquarium’s ninth studio album.

The Old North State is tattooed on the bones of front man BJ Barham, who has never lived more than two hours from his hometown in Reidsville. But, more so, what better to represent an album about loss than a place built to save the lives of shipwrecked mariners and passengers? Song as a sort of salvation is something Barham celebrates in, “All I Needed,” the final track on the record, and this speaks to what he hopes this album can do for the band’s established and growing fanbase. Sometimes when we’re drowning, music keeps us afloat.

“When these massive life changes happen, we feel like we are the only ones facing these problems. Talking about them openly, giving them a name and dragging them into the light makes them seem a little less daunting, a little more conquerable,” Barham said. “I hope this album serves as a salve to anyone who has experienced this sort of loss over the last few years. I hope it makes them feel a little less isolated and disconnected. I want them to know that someone out there is going through the exact same shit and that they are not alone.”

For anyone who’s followed the band over the last sixteen years, Chicamacomico feels stripped down and bare-boned in its instrumentation. Far from that early blend of Southern and punk rock, there are few if any moments where the band floors the pedal and leaves the tires smoking in its wake. The orchestration here is dialed back leaving the lyrics to stand naked front and center. It’s reminiscent of Rockingham, Barham’s 2016 solo album, and this may be in part a result of producer Brad Cook, who produced both albums as well as the band’s 2015 record Wolves. But it’s likely more a sign of the maturing sound and expanding scope of a songwriter now fully comfortable and confident in his own skin.

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