Aaron Powell’s seventh Fog Lake album unspools like a cinematic epic dancing on the brink of isolation and existential dread.
Musically, I associate reels with traditional dance, something you’re taught about in elementary school and forced to execute in the gymnasium with peers horrified at the thought of having to dance with each other publicly. There’s also the cinematic connection with reels, those rolls of film just waiting to unfurl and display their flickering images in a darkened theatre. And though initially, Tragedy Reel conjures up more of the latter than the former, songwriter Aaron Powell’s seventh album as Fog Lake unspools like a graceful cinematic epic that dances alone on the brink of isolation and existential dread.
Powell’s output has always featured an art-house cinema aesthetic: grainy textures, thick atmospherics, and loose structures that relied more on tone and feeling than narrative arcs. With Tragedy Reel, Powell’s lens is more focused and clear. Honing in on core elements — like guitar, piano, and voice — gives Powell’s songs room to expand and fill the frame. “Latter Day Saint,” in particular, is a showstopper. At just under eight minutes in length, it’s a meditative monologue that lets listeners build their own interpretation of its story through Powell’s vague-yet-vivid imagery: “We stayed sober Easter Sunday / Strung it up to cut the blood / Twelve apostles on the TV / Knew that it was all made up.”
Influenced as much by Powell’s native rural Newfoundland environment as his introspective world, Tragedy Reel is a delicate dance that reckons with the physical and emotional isolation many have experienced over the prolonged pandemic. Lyrically, it feels as if he’s swaying from present to past, trying to stay in step with the future. There’s a hopeful eye towards the horizon on songs like “Jitterbug,” that suggest that, as much as Powell finds himself going through the motions, he’s ready to break out of his box step and try out some new moves (“I bit off a bit too much to chew / What a weight off your mind / Once you know it’s already over”). It’s choreography familiar to anyone who’s lingered in Fog Lake’s gauzy, haunting dusk before. Still, there’s something peeking through Powell’s bedroom gloom pop that suggests happiness and contentment may be waiting just outside the frame.