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Aja Daashuur - Before the Beginning Print E-mail
Tuesday, 26 February 2002

Aja Daashuur
Before the Beginning
format: CD
label: Extasy Records
release year: 2002
performance: 6
sound 7
reviewed by: Dan MacIntosh

ImageAja Daashuur must have been burned badly by a lover at least once in her young life, but judging by these lyrical sentiments expressed on her debut album Before the Beginning, she's neither as vindictive nor as pissed-off as, say, Alanis Morissette or Tori Amos. Yet while such anger management is admirable, and sometimes even a little easier on the listener's ears, Daashuur’s musical package still falls short of the intelligence and interpersonal insight exemplified by a few of the more notable female icons who came along before her. Morissette and Amos, whether you agree with them or not, at least make bold and complete statements, whereas Daashuur’s lyrics are not always thought through all the way.
On "Change Me Back," she sings: "Oh, well if there's a hell you'll have your own cell/I wish you love and I wish you well." Now what the heck is this supposed to mean? How can you damn somebody to Hell, yet do so with Godspeed?

Aja Daashuur's first name is said to have come from the Steely Dan album of the same name, but you won’t hear anything similar to that inventive jazz-rock duo from Daashuur. "Change Me Back," for example, sounds an awful lot like a half-remembered Cars song with its clipped guitar part, even though its line "But now I'm younger than I was yesterday" paraphrases Dylan's "My Back Pages," making it one strange combination of musical reference points, to say the least.

"Help Me" has the sort of rolling piano, half-classical tone of a Tori Amos plea. Along with its subtle string arrangement, this song acts as a welcome contrast to the rest of the album’s more or less generic pop-rock sound. "Three Wise Men" also veers closely to Amos country, only with the added element of spooky guitar. Additionally, "Candy Cane" has a nice bit of quivery Neil Young-esque electric lead guitar filling it out.

Punk rock turned teenage angst into something tangibly relevant, but Daashuur's youthful complaints come off a little too much like high school girl whining. In addition to a few lyrical couplets that make little to no sense, her singing is often awkward and unsure. Her voice is pretty, but it lacks the authority to persuade the listener to join her emotional journey.

Nevertheless, there are flashes of brilliance now and again here. "Wearing Maybelline" smartly gives a new spin to the idea of how society forces us to wear unwanted masks that disguise our true identities. Its words combine an exploration of pressures inherent in the beauty culture, with the eternal search for individuality, putting these ideas into a package that any 16-year-old girl can relate to and understand.

Most often, these arrangements are unimaginatively slick, like generic makeup colors covering up a unique face. But the album's last song, called "Tremble," features vibrating guitar lines that perfectly match its butterflies-in-the-stomach lyrical outline.

Before the Beginning is an absolutely appropriate album title for this release, which adds up to only a half-formed representation of what Daashuur can really do. With just a little more artistic mentoring, and a producer who can add a sense of musical recklessness to her already maverick lyrical approach, her next outing may just make for a new and improved beginning.

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