Lo-fi Piano Balladry
Aquariana’s self-titled album dwells in the underground tradition of lo-fi music pioneered by the likes of R. Stevie Moore and Ariel Pink. It sounds grainy and a little weird, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The facade of antiquity provides a pleasant showcase for these conventional piano ballads sung in an unconventional way– if that’s what you like.
The fuzziness of Aquariana’s unrefined sound steeps each song in the nostalgia of the bygone eras to which her influences belong. Her style is reminiscent of Joni Mitchell’s Blue and, especially, Carole King’s Tapestry. These are artists who move us with no more than their voice and an instrument. That’s the idea with every song on Aquariana and thanks to the artist’s powerful vocal presence, she pulls it off.
Tracks like “Love Dispels Darkness” and “One Love” highlight Aquariana’s distinct style, fusing the jazziness of lounge singing with the kind of big, wailing swells of emotion that make one either love or hate opera. Her voice can be just as abrasive as it is moving. In “The Father of Many Young Ones” for instance, she breaks into a window-shattering falsetto to rival even Mariah Carey’s sky-high whistling. Likewise, in “One Love” she wails for the better part of a minute. These moments might be polarizing, but they’re also interesting forms of expression that defy convention.
Aquariana‘s most prominent characteristic, the fact that nearly every track is a piano ballad, could be its greatest flaw. There is no accompaniment or percussion or backup vocals in the entire record. At all. And only one song, “Step Into The Light,” is played on an instrument besides the piano. This can prove challenging for the ears, as the album seems to drag on. That is, unless you really, really, really enjoy piano ballads. It helps that nearly every track is also short and sweet. Brevity accommodates a modern attention span that has little patience for unadorned, repetitive music. But in the end, brevity can’t save this record from what some might call artistic consistency and others might call tedium.