Thursday, May 22, 2014

Juana Molina - Son (2006) REVIEW

We really barely listen to birds, just like the meandering prettiness of Juana Molina's music could leave us rather impassive as listeners while just as for birds, Molina's music deserves closer attention. Furthermore, there is something in her music which recalls bossanova while absolutely not sounding like it, but just like for bossanova, one tends to relegate such music for background purposes. Juana Molina seems to be more and more aware of this somewhat established fact. With her fourth album, simply called "Son", which can equally be translated by 'they are' and 'tune', Juana Molina has produced a recording which seems to summarize the more sonic experimentation of "Segundo" with the more melodic, singer/songwriting emphasis of "Tres Cosas" while extending significantly her sound palette. Besides, if most of the songs get closer to some pop format, almost danceable at times,  the arrangement become proportionally more disorienting, strange, unearthly, between a dream and a nightmare, hence more colorful, multi-layered and richer, the result being that the music proposed here wouldn't stand in the background very long. Juana Molina wishes to call the would-be listeners out.

Still, her music stays intrinsically discreet, delicate, subtle, but "Son" shows some of her wilder sides, fiercer, more animalistic, more eccentric as well. The seven-minute "Un Beso Llego" is a striking example of this transformation where Juana is extensively mimicking the whining of cats, her voice being multi-layered towards some still controlled cacophony. Juana Molina has confessed being more and more inspired and influenced by the sounds of nature, something already noticeable in her former works, birds chirping and electronic variations on insects buzz and wheeze can be heard, but it has never been as apparent as on "Son". What's more, keys, synths and electronics as well as Juana's own multi-tracked voice are creating organically never heard before sounds, which seem not to be produced by human manipulation but like emanating from some imagined alien creatures. Where "Tres Cosas" was relatively sober concerning sound effects, they made a huge and efficient return on "Son". However the acoustic guitar prevails as usual all through the majority of the songs, more like a red thread or a line. Few chord changes, they are deployed sparingly, enabling the songs to build horizontally while Juana adds or subtracts sounds to create a theoretically endless music. This is the album strength and weakness, indeed too many songs are starting the same way, with an acoustic guitar and simple yet beautiful chord progressions, then Juana's vocals and/or other sounds are added and so forth. It gives the album a quite monotonous feeling when listened to in its entirety.

Juana Molina's vocals sound increasingly more confident. She still favors a straight quite emotionless singing but she indulges more and more into voice experimentation, going higher and lower, using her breath or expressing new onomatopoeia for rhythmic or harmonic purposes, imitating other existing or non-existing animals, and whatever comes to her fertile imagination. She is also getting more articulate, more relax and it gains some welcoming poise and clarity. This is particularly felt on the two short centerpieces of the album, the oddly medieval sounding which turns into a metallic percussion orgy "Micael" and the ethereal space oddity title track. Franov plays gong on both songs.

"Son" is a difficult album to define, it has the melodic and rhythmic elements of a trippy/tricky pop album while at the same time it pushes the sonic boundaries towards absolutely alien sounding territories. It remains gentle but it contains also freakish, bizarre almost aberrant moments in abundance, its whole being equally distant and close, sympathetic and estranged, colorful and blurry, a dream or a nightmare. Almost a masterpiece is it wasn't for a feeling of similarity between many of those songs, a feeling that strangely evaporates when the album is taken four or five songs at a time.

7.5 out of 10

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