Thursday, May 22, 2014

Juana Molina - Segundo (2000) REVIEW

Juana Molina relocated for a short while in Los Angeles and found her calling by the turn of the century with her second album, the aptly called "Segundo", issued by Bla Bla Discos in 2000 in Argentina, then Domino in the rest of the world, from the US to Europe, between 2002 and 2004. Gone are the electric guitars, bass and drums, Juana Molina delivered a very personal take on so-called folktronica for voice, acoustic guitar, electronics and percussion (mostly native instruments like the bombo legüero a.o.). The meeting with multi-instrumentalist and ethnic-ambient-electronic composer Alejandro Franov seems to be crucial to Juana's new aesthetics. Most of the somewhat alien and native percussion sounds found on the album have been created and/or sampled by Franov, this for the decor, the composition are almost completely Juana's creation, with some guests here and there.

The electronic effects pervade most of the songs on "Segundo" to become the main protagonists of those songs, Juana's vocals becoming one of the instruments. All sounds and melodies are circulating, even circumvoluting, around each other to create a compelling trance inducing ethereal ambiance not so remote from Indian ragas or some moody African polyphonic/polyrhythmic jamborees without sounding like any of them. It is particularly noticeable on songs like the opener "Martin Fierro" and the intensely tribal, virtually an instrumental - Juana is limiting herself to 'lalas' and 'nanas' - "Mantra Del Bicho Feo". The opener is a swampy, percussive, disorienting thing where Juana's phrasing could remind Jon Hassell's trumpet voicing. This track can almost be considered a duet with Alejandro Franov, who is also providing the syncopated afro-beat and other strange sounds; it wouldn't be out of place on Molina's and Franov's collaborative album "AooB" (see below). The raga-ish "El Desconfiado" evokes flower-power chants of the 60s, with guest David Miner (best known for having been a member of Grace Slick's The Great Society), while the odd atonal  instrumental "Medlong" slightly sounds like a naive Brain Eno's Berlin era electronic experiment.

The longest tracks are the most rewarding and interesting pieces on the entire album. The already mentioned 8-minute "Mantra Del Bico Feo", which is indeed a mantra, as well as the spacey downtempo seven-minute "El Perro", where Juana seems to complain about dogs that are barking for no reason, all with a barking dog sample to make sure the listener understand her concern. Finally, the heady 8-minute "Sonamos", a rather fast pace electro-blues hypnotic jam. Some of the shortest songs shows Juana Molina is very much rooted in soft folk music like on "El Pastor Mentiroso" and "Quiero", still with very discreet electronics. "Vaca Que Cambia De Querencia" is a beautiful lullaby played on piano, Lisa Germano's shadow is hidden in the corner.

Juana Molina's vocals are even more subdued than on her debut, she is most of the time whispering her melodies and harmonies. Compared to her, Lisa Germano or Suzanne Vega sound like Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner respectively. It gives the album a somewhat similar feeling throughout, which could make it sound monotonous or even boring on its whole, the record duration licks the 70-minute mark. This is maybe the only little drawback for this nonetheless extremely personal if not unique piece of work, which set Juana Molina apart from any other musical artists. A little masterpiece.

8 out of 10

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