Juana Molina

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
Rara (1996), 5/10
Segundo (2003), 7/10
Tres Cosas (2004), 6.5/10
Son (2006), 6/10
Un Dia (2008), 7.5/10
Wed 21 (2013), 5/10
Halo (2017), 6/10

(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

Argentinean singer-songwriter Juana Molina, who had already released the modest collection of Rara (1996) when she was mainly a television actress, found her calling in the new century, coining a personal form of bedroom folktronica for voice, guitar, electronics and percussion. Electronic effects permeated Segundo (2003) to the point that they (the effects) became the protagonists of the stories, and the ethereal ambience became the ultimate meaning of those stories. Molina's whispered vocals are just one of the instruments, a sort of flute that meanders in a labirynth of audio tricks. African polyrhythms bestow a swampy, "forth world", disoriented feeling on Martin Fierro, with Molina's voice working almost like Jon Hassell's trumpet. The spacey vocals and the raga-jazzy arrangement of El Desconfiado evoke the hippy chants of the 1960s. The folkish lullaby El Pastor Mentiroso is like a deformed mirror image of Enya's music. Molina does not seem to hold on to a center of mass as she drifts from the mellow lounge muzak of Quien? to the bouncy pop of Que Llueva!, from the sinister voodoo dance of Misterio Uruguayo to the odd instrumental fanfare of Medlong. The longer pieces have time to unravel more than just a cute arrangement: the trippy downtempo shuffle of El Perro, the electronic bubbling and tribal dancing of Mantra Del Bicho Feo (virtually an instrumental), and the fast blues rigmarole and electronic jazz-blue jam of Sonamos,

Molina sounded something like a colder Bjork and a happier Lisa Germano on the more elegant Tres Cosas (2004). The anemic instruments did not do much to strengthen the fragile vocals in the tenderly waltzing No Es Tan Cierto and the ethereal nursery rhymes El Cristal and Salvese Quien Pueda, sunnier and more accomplished melodies than in the past. The renewed melodic emphasis is confirmed by Tres Cosas, despite the out of tune keyboards, and by the folkish lullaby El Progreso, while the wordless shuffle iUh! injects some rhythm into a fundamentally apathic act. Yo Se Que is instead typical of Molina's humbler and shier mode, in which both the vocal and the instrumental parts are hinted and not fully fleshed out, and even hijacked by alien effects. Her voice is protagonist of the hymn Isabel and of the lament Curame, songs that are as rarified as possible. The voice often manages to straddle the border between neoclassical and childish, notably in the piano-based aria Insensible that closes the album. On the other hand, Filter Taps is pure surreal ambience.

Son (2006) was a more organic and "adult" album, almost a return to the format of the pop song. She had rarely sounded as conventional as she sounds in Rio Seco and La Verdad, the songs that emphasize the melodic skills of the previous album. Molina attains a bizarre kind of enlightenment in the more atmospheric pieces, like the wordless Yo No that towards the end coalesces into an upbeat melodic ditty, or the feathery Son, drenched in dilated sounds, or the ecstatic wordless jam Un Beso Llega, that ends in sidereal vacuum. The hyper-downbeat blues Las Culpas de facto belongs to another album. The longest piece, the eight-minute Hay Que Ver Si Voy, is instead disappointing.

Un Dia (2008) was at the same time more intimate, more abstract and more hypnotic, with the voice increasingly turning into an instrument and the rhythms increasingly turning into a voice. It starts with the minimalist repetition and the traditional chanting of Un Dia. It continues with the evanescent vibrations of Lo Dejamos (7:31) that segue into the hypnotic fibrillation of Los Hongos De Marosa (7:27) and the gentle pulsating harmonies of Quien (7:22). These three lengthy pieces constitute the emotional core of the work. It's like listening to a lighter, warmer version of Joan La Barbara's experiments. If El Vistado is merely an appendix to three suites, No Llama applies repetition to a more oneiric atmosphere and Dar (Que Dificil) transfers the album's leitmotiv and weltanschauung into the realm of subliminal dance music.

Wed 21 (Crammed Discs, 2013) boasts a trio of lively effervescent songs: the boogie Eras, the samba Ferocisimo, and the android ballet Wed 21. But most of the rest, such as the Enya-esque Lo Decidi Yo, sounds inconclusive and messy. The longer El Oso De La Guarda has vocal and percussive elements that may be intriguing, but the song fails to merge them.

Her seventh solo album, Halo (Crammed Discs, 2020), is many albums in one. There are poppy ditties like Cosoco (which sounds like a remix of La Bamba) and Cara de Espejo (a throwback to the 1960s). There are songs based on multiple whispering voices, which become ghostly echoes (Sin Dones) or reinforce a percussive trance (In the Lassa). There are spartan oneiric songs like Calculos y Oraculos for voice and synth. And along the way she reinvents blues (Estalacticas) and hip-hop (A00 B01).

Molina also contributed to the supergroup Congotronics International which recorded Where’s the One? (2022).

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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