Since 2006, American Aquarium has released eight studio albums and two live albums. In 2021, they also surprised fans with Slappers, Bangers & Certified Twangers, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, two albums filled with covers of the band's favorite 90s country hits. This spring, the band will release another studio album titled Chicamacomico, a project that was completely funded by fans in only 46 hours.
Frontman BJ Barham — the only remaining member of the original band — also released a solo record in 2016. Through his sobriety, marriage and raising a child, his songwriting has consistently gotten better, and through the independence of his new label, Losing Side Records, the best is surely yet to come.
This list was originally written by Riane Konc, and revised by Blake Ells.
"Six Years Come September"From 'Lamentations' (2020)
If Barham himself coined the phrase “bummer jams,” this would stand as an all-timer in his catalog. The narrator describes the day that he gave up alcohol, a moment that came after an automobile crash that took away the loves of his life.
“I got a picture of you holding a picture of her taped to the dash of my car / I see it every time I check my speed or run it to the grocery store."
"I Hope He Breaks Your Heart"From 'Dances for the Lonely' (2009)
A crowd favorite for nearly a decade, Barham has said that the track was born after an ex-girlfriend brought a new flame to one of his shows. The couple stood in the front of the stage and Barham noticed, went backstage and angrily penned this song.
"The Luckier You Get"From 'Lamentations' (2020)
From 2020’s Lamentations, “The Luckier You Get” is a blue-collar song about blue-collar living that would have fit well on mainstream country radio.
"Lonely Ain’t Easy"From 'Burn. Flicker. Die.' (2012)
“Lonely Ain’t Easy” takes its time getting started: It lopes along as a fiddle and guitar-driven instrumental for nearly a minute before Barham delivers the song’s blistering opening line: “The only thing certain is we end up alone.” A stripped-down version of this song first appeared on 2008 EP Bones, but the fuller, more fleshed-out version that appears on Burn. Flicker. Die. comes with guests: That fiddle at the beginning is played by none other than Amanda Shires, and she and husband Jason Isbell also lend harmonies to this bittersweet song.
"Downtown Girls"From 'Dances for the Lonely' (2009)
From 2009’s Dances for the Lonely, "Downtown Girls" is a song about how you’d probably rather meet a possible love interest at the grocery store or at church than at your favorite dive bar.
"Casualties"From 'Burn. Flicker. Die.' (2012)
The eighth track on Burn. Flicker. Die., “Casualties” somehow manages to simultaneously glamorize a rock and roll lifestyle and make it sound terrible at the same time -- depending on the listener’s perspective.
"Wolves"From 'Wolves' (2015)
Julius Hodge played basketball at Barham’s alma mater, N.C. State (whose mascot is the Wolfpack), and following a win on national television, he was interviewed by a sideline reporter. Hodge looked into the camera and said, “When the Wolves are hungry, we eat!”
Barham messaged Hodge and told him that he’d be the inspiration for this album title track from 2015.
“When the wolves are hungry, the wolves will eat / I just wish these wolves would get their claws out of me.”
"The World is on Fire"From 'Things Change' (2018)
Written immediately after the 2016 presidential election, "The World is on Fire" is about the confusion that many felt during that time. It’s empathetic toward the people that Barham had grown up around in North Carolina and pleads for answers from neighbors that he has suddenly become disconnected from, while offering up the best solution that he knows.
“We must go boldly into the darkness / And be the light.”
"Losing Side of 25"From 'Wolves' (2015)
“Losing Side of 25” was the inspiration for Barham’s new record label in 2021, Losing Side Records, an outlet allowing him to release anything he wants, whenever he wants. This track is about growing pains and finding where out where your own choices and goals fit in amongst your peers in small town America.
"Cape Fear River"From 'burn.flickr.die' (2012)
The first track on burn.flickr.die. is the most straightforward introduction to American Aquarium’s BJ Barham. If you are diving into the band's catalog for the first time, the entire record is the best starting point. This opening track reveals that Barham grew up much like one of his favorite bands, Drive-By Truckers. Replace “Alabama” with “North Carolina” and “TVA” and “Reynolds Aluminum” with “R.J. Reynolds” and you’re left with a similar depiction of the modern American South.