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.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.