Aroah: The Last Laugh

Jason MacNeil


The Last Laugh

Label: Acuarela
US Release Date: Available as import
UK Release Date: 2004-04-05

There was a time when singers like Cat Power and Fiona Apple were the talk of the town. Their fragile vocals and hushed stage presence created a buzz around each of them. But for every great performance, there was usually one that was a bomb and another where these artists lost it on stage, whether physically or emotionally. Aroah, who goes by the name Irene Tremblay off-stage, is not completely in that niche but not too far from it, either. Performing with groups like Manta Ray and Labradford, her new album is dubbed as a "back to basics" record. The press kit goes to great lengths to shed her former sound and says she now falls in line with troubadours such as Townes Van Zandt. Judging by the opening number, it sounds like a definite stretch on the former comparison. "An Orchid Is a Flower That Thrives of Neglect" is a dreamy, Jefferson Airplane-meets-Blake Babies tune that sounds both psychedelic and alternative simultaneously. Drummer Otto Hauser keeps the off-kilter tempo and rhythm moving along, but it's a song that is quite challenging to get through.

"Vigo", which literally starts with a yawn, is a slow and indifferent dirge that doesn't quite find its footing. A different vocal is added on the middle portion that sounds far stronger, backed by a cheesy organ. "It's not fair, how could it be / When I trusted you more than you trusted me," she sings as she throws away the last line a bit like Steve Earle. The whirlwind electronic effects sound like either a UFO or helicopter are disembarking, adding little to the tune. When she does get into a different and slightly happier headspace, it's a better result. "Katharine Says" has a dusty barroom acoustic flavor that sounds a bit like the Cowboy Junkies or, especially, Carolyn Mark in spots. Unfortunately, the song is just over ninety seconds and sounds like it's half-finished. So if you like it, savor it!

"Autobiographical Rhyming Song" is basically Tremblay and her four-track machine. "Music is a question of taste and having lots of time to waste", she quips as this tune goes from a slightly tight arrangement into a loose and rather unsettling middle section. Aroah is trying to get something going but too often it's just a very good idea wasted. The only exception to this is the rolling folk pop of "Horoscope", with Tremblay sounding a bit like Aimee Mann backed by Kathleen Edwards. It's a spacey tune with its '60s orchestral hues in the distance. "The Lonely Drunk" is also pretty good as the band tells a story about, well, a lonely drunk living in "the emptiest apartment I've ever seen."

One true highlight is the acoustic instrumental which sets "Not Amused" in motion. Tremblay gives a very solid performance that has ebbs and flows à la Jimmy Page. Drums are then added and the song starts off. But again, a verse later it's over -- another idea and effort down the tubes. That isn't to say all songs should be three minutes, but a great idea can certainly be expanded upon. Here it's not. "Upside Down" is perfect for that rainy Sunday morning or foggy evening strolling down a dark, possibly seedy alley -- very light and extremely easy on the ears. Think of Be Good Tanyas somewhat urbanized and you get the gist of it.

Aroah is an acquired taste to be sure, one which appreciates unfinished ideas and brief snippets of possible gems. "Y La Cinta De 'Los Bingueros'" is a country-meets-Celtic ditty that is another nugget and sleeper pick that includes cello and pedal steel guitars working in harmony. "Fuck Rock", a folk tune which tells the story from the narrator's point of view as she talks to a little boy, has some fine if simple picking from Tremblay. The band also hits paydirt on the murky yet epic "Too Proud to Try". Overall, it's a disc that some may warm to, but not too many.

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