[24 October 2007]
“El Día Después,” reports the press kit with moon-eyed awe, “is a record of an intense, harsh reflection.” That harshness is all still sealed in Irene Tremblay’s reflective head, however, and the intensity is all in the Spanish lyrics. The only words in English on this CD are the enigmatic, “You are a geographer,” and “You measure the distances,” sung with intelligence and a slight hint of sadness or serious thought. Tremblay, who goes by the stage name Aroah, is a Spaniard born of an American migrant mother; her English, as she has shown in interviews and songs of the past, is perfectly good.
The music itself is smoother, if anything, than it was on her previous albums, No Podemos Ser Amigos and The Last Laugh, for which she went through an acoustic folk phase and strummed a guitar. Now she and the guitar are joined by a small orchestra’s worth of other instruments—bowed strings, trumpets, a piano, a glockenspiel, an organ—all of them sweeping along, accompanying her musky murmur, softening potential rough edges. On “La Maleta”. she sings with an ache in her voice and the instruments rise underneath to bear her up, to lift and convey her to the place her mood is going, a swell, a wave, rolling, rising and falling, like a hillside—not a sudden fall, but a drop that goes down gently and swings through the valley into the slope of another hill.
A harsh musician would have made the drop steeper, the descent rocky and dry, not this luscious stoop into green valleys. The music seems to look inward, as if the singer is addressing herself before considering us, but it doesn’t have the fierce self-absorption, the hardness, or the lack of goodwill and humour that the word ‘intensity’ can suggest. There is seriousness in her tone, sadness, a wistful vulnerability, but not anguish. “Here,” it seems to say, “is a woman who suffered a sincere disappointment only a short while ago, but see, she is weathering the storm. She can sing about it. Sometimes she seems about to whisper. Listen.” The only disappointment in “La Maleta” is that the song is so short, less than two minutes long, which wouldn’t be a problem if it didn’t spend most of its time sounding as if it wanted to build into something longer topped by a dramatic crescendo. Instead, it ends as if someone has stepped up behind the musician and said quietly, “Your time is up. Relax. Now stop.”
She has said, when asked, that she often feels lonely, and when El Día Después is heard in the afterlight of that statement, it seems significant that hers is the only voice, and that despite the organ, the trumpets, and so forth, she still favours the isolated noises that a guitar can make: the short, painful squeaks and simple, single strums. Strums and squeaks start off several of the tracks. The title song is one, and then there’s “Pastoral” (which features also a sweet Beatlesque flute), and “La Maleta”. “Nada” is taken up with her voice on its own sans all accoutrements save an echo. The echo resounds hollowly through the lyrics as if she’s singing in some enclosed, ceramic area, perhaps a tiled bathroom where the door is firmly shut. (I imagine her in the bath itself, a white clawfoot one turned upside down in a mown field, but acoustically this mental picture is wrong. Grass and earth would have deadened the sound.)
“Pequeña y Verde”, which comes just before “Nada”, uses echoes of a different kind. This time they sound machine-generated, effects added to a voice by a technician, preceded by the synthetic reverberations of a keyboard. Percussion enters the song, and with little warning it switches to swinging country, a transformation like that of gold alchemising backwards into a base metal.
Her penchant for acoustic guitar is obvious, but she’s merged this folky sound with an introspective pop ambiance that takes her closer to her fellow Acuarela labelmates Mus and to Migala’s old singer Abel Hernández, particularly his debut EP La Piel del Oso. (His recent LP, Las Otras Vidas, is extroverted in ways that Tremblay doesn’t aspire to.) I notice from El Día Después‘s credits that the two share some of the same instrumentalists. In both cases the words ‘piano’ ‘guitarra’ and ‘hammond’ are closely involved with the words ‘Raul Fernandez,’ while ‘batería’ or ‘batería y percusiones’ sit next to ‘Xavi Molero.’ As usual, this prompts speculations that have nothing to do with the albums themselves. Are Hernández and Tremblay friends? Is this a coincidence? Do the people who have their work released by Acuarela meet as a matter of course, at parties, at lunches? And how do they make albums that are, like this one, so tender, and so frequently lovely?