This is Rich Aucoin’s United States
Rich Aucoin’s United States is an exploration of America, capitalism, and a system we’re all starting to see fall from grace.
Halifax indie rock-pop artist Rich Aucoin dropped his new album United States last month and it’s been lurking on my playlist and making its way into my day-to-day. The album is a psychedelic exploration of America, capitalism, and a system we’re all starting to see fall from grace. The album comes just in time to gear up for the most anticipated (terrifying?) election in the modern history of our neighbour to the South. Aucoin’s new album features 12 songs inspired by the artist’s journey cycling across 12 US states, a feat he accomplished in support of Mental Health America and the Canadian Mental Health Association. Each song on the album is related to one of the 12 states he traveled through—from Los Angeles, down the coast, across the south to New York City.
United States (the album) is available now on all major streaming platforms.
I remember the first time I set foot outside, in Manhattan, in the sunshine. Yes, this is still an article about Rich Aucoin’s music, just humor me for a moment. I was staying at a shitty hotel that undoubtedly isn’t there anymore and I was meeting friends at the Museum of Modern Art – because, fancy! Like a true Canadian music writer in the making, I remember vividly blasting Metric as I navigated through the unfamiliar streets. My first experience in New York City was pretty-much movie-style-magic, with a ruthless hangover. In almost all my travels to New York, I’ve had a similar sort-of star-struck feeling of unreality. The rest of the country is just as mesmerizing. It’s a star after all.
The United States is the most iconic nation, iconic culture on the planet. Almost every part of it has been woven into our collective psyche in one way or another. The American experiment was inspiring, unrelenting and the backdrop to some of the most impactful moments of our – entertainment-driven – lives. The number of soft drinks alone that can be attributed to America is staggering. It’s, for this reason, I think that the United States is so fascinating for artists as a topic. It’s inspiring. It’s depressing. It’s huge. It’s almost unbelievable.
Aucoin saw a country, two years into a budding dictatorship, divided and hurting. A pair of wheels and his own two feet took him through landscapes varied in their construction and grandeur, from the boarded-up storefronts of Route 66 to the fountain formation of Red Rocks. Tiny towns and major cities. Thriving and fading.
I’m going to do my best to remember America fondly.
“I wanted to really see the states alone as an observer with lots of time to process the experience. I’ve loved touring there and was interested in how such a progressive country could elect their current president,” Aucoin said of the trip in a statement.
He continued: “After cycling through town after town with decaying downtowns where photos were displayed in the local cafes showing the town in full bloom after the second world war, I could see how his propaganda of ‘Make America Great Again’ really conned people. I spent a lot of time on social media and alone over those months and could see how the states had re-entered a period that felt like the late ’60s again with both a resurgence in student protest movements and a renewed interest in psychedelics. I was also meditating a lot and thinking about these things while riding.”
United States (the album) by Rich Aucoin is the kind of album you hope can change the world for the better. Maybe it’s the psychedelic twang to some of the tracks, reminiscent of that 1960’s political and social upheaval. United States the album comes at a time when much of the world has no hope of looking forward when all we can do is focus on the dumpster fire that could mean the end of the America this album was written about – maybe in hopes to save – in the first place.
Remember when I was talking about sunshine in New York City and listening to Metric? If one day I end up in New York City again in the sun, and nothing is on fire, I’ll listen to this song, and feel a kind of a weight lifted. Fingers crossed. Kayfabe is the first track on the album. Kayfabe is a noun that describes the act of staging events as ‘real’, the term comes from the pro-wrestling industry. My suspicion is this song is about California. I’ll leave it at that.
How It Breaks is the kind of song that inspires me to do stuff, right off the bat. I don’t know what that stuff is yet, but I’m excited. Part protest song, part gospel anthem this song takes on some topics like race freedoms with a complicated frustration, a familiar frustration many outsiders feel when looking at a country that inspired so much greatness, by way of so much cruelty.
The next song on Aucoin’s album is called Walls, and if you guessed it might be dripping with symbolism, you’d be right. The song has some awesome little notes of mysterious-funk throughout and some sexy 70’s-style vocals. Fuck walls. There I said it.
Did anyone else notice, there is a horse loose in the hospital? Now more than ever?
Reset was the second single released from the album United States and it’s probably the most compelling if for nothing else than this is the kind of art that screams what everyone is thinking, both in the United States and outside, the system isn’t working. This song speaks to the rebel in me, and probably the one in you too, and maybe even the ones inside a nation of soccer-moms at this point. As I said before, America is iconic, its people as much as it’s landscapes.
They know they have a reset button written right into the constitution down there, right?
This Is It is the next track on the United States album by Aucoin. It’s got a poppy-80’s synth thing going on with it that I’m just really into. This song is sort of an ode to hesitation, holding out, and everything that is not grabbing life by the proverbial horns. I guess when you think about it, it does seem like Americans are waiting for something.
Civil takes the retro thing back even further, landing somewhere in the mid-’70s, presumably at a disco-roller-rink. One thing I’m digging about this album is how it’s drenched in musical sounds of American history from disco to rock to punk. Track to track. Back to the track. This brings in some serious funk notes – and best I can tell – it’s a song about the ongoing struggle for equality faced by Black America every day for hundreds of years. I bet I’d break some fucking windows too.
The next track up is called Trip, and that it is. This is the kind of track you should listen to while traveling through the Mojave desert in search of gold old fashioned American flying saucers.
Blue Highways is a song that reminds me of 2010 when “the 99%” of America began to wake up to the dystopian and impossible nightmare the out-of-control banking system has created for young people.
Dopamine is a song that sounds like it feels. You know, good. It’s interesting if you’ve heard Aucoin’s previous work you can tell that he’s drawing a lot of those Americana musical elements to sink into these tracks, a departure from what I would say is usually a more experimental, or even curious approach. In the United States album, each track feels very deliberate.
When an indie album can rock an organ you know you’ve got something special on your hands. Eulogy of Regret is a powerful song that inspires you, reminds you that time is finite and that if you’re going to act you should do it now or look back later and wish you had.
American Dream is the last song on the album United States by Rich Aucoin. It’s a soft, and somber end to a remarkable album that was a pleasure to review. American Dream is ultimately what I’ve come to understand about the United States. It’s a country full of incredible people that have been abandoned by their leaders and even a little bit by each other.
As I write this a country is so incredibly divided that even as their leader has been hospitalized, due to a virus he refused to take seriously, his supporters remain fast and steady that the virus is a hoax and instead it’s the result of someone, somewhere who, if punched hard enough, would eventually relent.
I don’t know if the music of an indie rock artist from Nova Scotia can change a country for the better. I know it can’t hurt. I know that when artists speak up with passion and write music from a place of empathy and understanding, it usually changes the world more than for a single country.
For more information on Rich Aucoin visit: http://richaucoin.ca
Listen to United States below: