Getting older is an inevitable fact of life, but how a person responds to the resulting changes determines whether he's growing up or simply aging. Halsted frontman Ryan Auffenberg is most certainly a member of the former camp, as evidenced by the band's new album, High Wire And A Heart Of Gold, a gorgeous recording that explores many of the complex and intriguing issues that accompany maturity. High Wire And A Heart Of Gold-available digitally and on vinyl on April 8th, 2014 via Auffenberg's own Ashbury Records imprint-is the second record that the Missouri-born, San Francisco-based singer-songwriter has issued as Halsted, a moniker he chose to employ when 2010's Life Underwater was put together by a group of friends that felt more like a band than a bunch of hired guns. Though the project continues to be directed by Auffenberg (who's also released a pair of solo albums, Marigolds and Golden Gate Park), his right-hand man is Peter Craft, whose Boxer Studios in San Francisco played host to the recording of High Wire And A Heart Of Gold. As with Life Underwater, Craft drummed, engineered, and coproduced with Auffenberg. "Pete is generally my first line of defense and closest collaborator in the group," says Auffenberg, who also worked with Kevin T. White (Chuck Prophet), Brian Mello, and Peter Straus (Dwarves) on the new album. "Whenever I have new song ideas, he's usually the first one to get the demo, and we'll then kick ideas around for a bit before submitting them to the group at large." Some of the more significant recent developments in Auffenberg's life include getting married and having his first child, and while High Wire And A Heart Of Gold may not exactly be an ode to domesticity, it's impossible for these new paths not to influence his writing. Now in his early 30s, Auffenberg has found peace in parts of his life that troubled him when he was younger. He's still as confessional as ever, but now he's coming from the viewpoint of someone who's successfully made it to the other side of adulthood. "A lot of pop culture and music centers around your 20s and those formative years, but there's a lot to be said about becoming an adult," says Auffenberg. "What does it mean to get older and have kids and be in a marriage? I think there's a way to explore those themes honestly that connects with people, and hopefully there's a way that you can speak to people while talking about those things just as much as when I'm singing about a girl who's done me wrong." Breaking occasionally from his traditional themes of lost love, you'll now find Auffenberg ruminating on a wide range of topics, from the musician's life (first single "Independence Day") to lighter fare, such as the zombie apocalypse themed ("Climbing Up The Walls"). Elliott Smith has been a huge influence on Auffenberg, and he's the somewhat obvious subject of album opener "Figure 8," a gentle rocker inspired by stories in Autumn de Wilde's photo book about the troubled singer. Auffenberg saw similarities in comments by Smith's friends about having to walk away from their relationships with him near the end of his life and his own conflicted feelings about not being in better standing with Tim Mooney when he unexpectedly died last summer. The American Music Club drummer produced much of Auffenberg's solo material and played an integral role in the early part of his career. "Tim and I hit a bit of a rough spot leading up to the release of Marigolds, but had since patched things up," says Auffenberg. "That said, things between us were nowhere near where I would have liked them to be when he passed. I remember when I heard the news, just feeling this overwhelming wave of regret that I hadn't taken advantage of the opportunity to let him know how highly I think of him and what an impact he's had on me." "Autumn Rain" is another album highlight, with it's acoustic strum and pensive organ perfectly complementing Auffenberg's exploration of the ghosts from his past that live around the San Francisco neighborhood where Grace Cathedral stands. Mark Kozelek (Red House Painters, Sun Kil Moon) once famously did something similar, and it wouldn't be a stretch to compare the two artists. "I tend to be a pretty nostalgic person," admits Auffenberg. "As I've entered my 30s, I spend a fair amount of time taking stock of the past 10 years. There are phases of my life from five years ago that feel so foreign to where I am now and who I am." That said, one significant departure for Auffenberg is that he now spends more time looking outward rather than inward, as found on the empathetic "Don't Cry Your Eyes Out," a piano-led ballad he wrote for his wife as she was struggling to finish a graduate degree. It's a new musical attitude that reflects the changes in his personal life. "I find myself spending more of my time worried about other people in my life: my wife, and now with my son," says Auffenberg. "Previously a lot of that energy was sort of focused on myself, and now it's focused out at them." Musically, High Wire And A Heart Of Gold retains some of the poppier elements of Life Underwater, though this time around there's a stronger roots-rock backbone that harkens back to Auffenberg's solo work. It's a slow-burning respite from a fast-paced world, a record that demands thoughtful attention and rewards listeners who absorb the entire song cycle. Though still young, Auffenberg's music reflects a sage soul who's been there, done that, and is excited about what's to come. It's the sound of confidence, and it couldn't sound any better. - Marc Hawthorne.