Anyone who’s been around me the last few years has heard the following sermon: If we wish to see music thrive as art and not just marketing, it’s important to follow (and celebrate) the endeavors/exploits of the brazen and the visionary, those folks who, regardless of commercial standing, create works that expand our notion of what’s possible. One example I use is the Argentinean singer, songwriter and sound designer Juana Molina.
It’s perhaps unrealistic to expect the world to catch up to Molina – whose Segundo (1000 Recordings, pg. 511) is an exotic concoction of tightly braided vocal harmonies, surreptitious beats and strange primitive electronic sounds. Her music is quirky, an acquired taste. Still I hold out hope that these records will eventually reach a wide audience, because nobody – not even Bjork, to whom she’s often compared – is doing anything remotely like this.
Un Dia, Juana Molina’s fifth international release, arrived this week. It’s an astoundingly beautiful studio wonderment, a record potent enough to give beleagured music people hope. Extending the looping-and-layering approach of Segundo, Molina builds beats one wicked percussion tick at a time, until she’s created elaborate, defiantly unkempt rhythms. Rather than commit to a single recurring beat, she implies all sorts of jarring polyrhythms as she goes along, testing out possible variations while sticking to a general flight plan. Atop this shifting foundation are rippling waves of overlapping Molina voices, each expressing variations of pitch or temperment – these chorales are soothing and snarling at the same time. To encounter Molina’s inventive textures at peak, check out “Los Hongos de Marosa,” which gathers wiggly ad-libbed melodies, blissed-out nursery-school songs and entreaties to strange deities into an eight-minute trance.
Many of the vocals only occasionally hinge on a fixed text, and that’s intentional: Soundscapes like these can signify about all sorts of things, as Molina indicates in a line embedded in the title track. “One day I will sing the songs with no lyrics and everyone can imagine for themselves if it’s about love, disappointment, banalities or about Plato.” That day has arrived: The lyrics of most songs on Un Dia serve as merely starting points, invitations into a fantastic netherworld of sound. Don’t miss the chance to explore it.
Recordings of Interest, from The List
#1 from Dustin, Chicago - 10/16/2008 7:13
I was pleasantly surprised to see that you had included Segundo in your book. I first saw Juana Molina at Coachella in 2004. She played against the desert sky as the sun was sending in what can only be described as a transcendent experience. Once I got home I bought Segundo and marveled at its beauty. I hope by your inclusion she is brought to a wider audience. Can’t wait to hear the new album.