Aaron Roche has some impressive notches on his musical belt. He has played guitar alongside a varied group of musicians (R. Stevie Moore, Lower Dens, Sufjan Stevens and Anohni), consequently developing a talent for diversity and range in his multi-instrumental style. That range is spotlighted in Roche’s own music.
Though his foundation is in acoustic, folky guitar parts, the Brooklyn-based artist's new album, HaHa HuHu, sees him following his musical whims through ghostly harmonies, glitchy electronics, and beautiful melodies. The title holds clues to Roche’s conflicting yet functionally compatible impulses: Haha and Huhu are Hindu music deities, whom Roche seems to pay tribute to through non-Western musical touches (particularly in the female singer’s part on “Supreme Monument”), as well as the album’s overall sense of mysticism and spirituality (the vocals-driven “Like Why I” resembles an old Christian spiritual, while “K Is Manic” sounds like a church choir).
On the other hand, HaHa HuHu is the laugh of someone who might be slightly unhinged—a persona that's also reflected in the album. Starting with the strong opener, “Bang,” Roche imbues his music with a sense of anxiety and imbalance. The song begins with soft and melancholic folk, pairing a quick, picked pattern on acoustic guitar with a descending melody sung in an expressive voice; but soon, Roche enacts a kind of breakdown, repeating the same syllable over and over again as effects begin to manipulate it. Electronic voices then enter, droning, screeching, and ringing in dense, jittery patterns as the pretty vocals sing “I hear my head bang.” By marrying glitchy sounds with a gorgeous folk song, Roche plays with feelings of inner conflict to make something magnetically off-kilter.
This kind of conflict emerges throughout HaHa HuHu. It’s in the devastating panic of “The Terror,” a more straightforward folk composition in which Roche sings passionately about his own death improving the world (“If the cancer gets me in the end / I know it’s better for the world"), police violence (“[Eric Garner’s] fingers fluttered rolling papers”), and suicide (“I form a plan to kill myself”). When he obsessively repeats a line at the end—“I cannot bear to make something and destroy it”—it sounds like a glitch without the electronic intervention. “K is Manic” achieves a similar visceral gut-punch, this time through effects: Over the echoing angelic choir, Roche plays a looping, disrupting sample of what sounds like a man in extreme distress.
Besides the dual anguish and spirituality, one overarching takeaway from HaHa HuHu is the confidence and attentiveness with which Roche approaches his music. A thoughtful and deliberate artist in all of his many musical modes, he takes as much care with his heart wrenching folk guitar compositions as he does with rounded, complex electronic voices and evocative strings (“One Thing at a Time,” “Wooden Knife”). Only a few times—in the title track, for example—does the abundance of ideas outweigh clarity. For the most part, all of the conflicts between voices and styles only add to the album’s intrigue and strength. HaHa HuHu is as captivating as it is beautiful and strange.