Thursday, May 22, 2014

Juana Molina - Un Dia (2008) REVIEW

Juana Molina's underground fame was growing exponentially by the time she released her fifth album, "Un Dia", via Domino Recordings. She saw her song "Salvese Quien Pueda" from "Tres Cosas" remixed by Four Tet in 2005 and she added vocals on The Chemical Brothers's track "Seal" in 2007. Maybe both collaborations somehow gave her the desire to experiment deeper into multi-layered electronics and explore further into her genetic knack for tribal percussion and grooves, in any case "Un Dia" represents Juana Molina's boldest creation to date, at the same time more abstract, more hypnotic, more extrovert and paradoxically more danceable than any of her previous stuff. The singer/songwriter appellation makes no sense anymore, Molina has decided to dive into sounds like some alchemist shaman and the result is one long trip into the realm of the sonically unknown, she keeps pushing musical boundaries.

Alejandro Franov is gone, Juana Molina is near completely on her own with this one; his influence remains audible but his physical absence seems to unleash Juana's huge imagination to the furthest. "Un Dia" is also her most intuitive, spontaneous yet most 'composed' and most adventurous album so far. There is that impression that while recording this work Juana felt as free as a kid left alone in a studio without any boring adult to refrain her to do whatever she likes : she is something like Animal Collective all by herself. Voice, keys, electronics, percussion, guitars are increasingly turning into each other to the point that it doesn't matter anymore who or what does what, each sound could come from any source to form a fantastic organic whole which I honestly haven't heard since Supersilent's masterpieces "5" (2001) and "6" (2003).

The opener and title track starts off most surprisingly with a short near screaming a capella soon followed by an extremely repetitive two-syllable vocal motif and two-note piano until deep low polyrhythmic bass percussion appears and we are embarked on an energetic voodoo dance fanfare, Juana Molina leading the way through traditional head vocals quasi incantation and other rhythmic onomatopoeia. An astoundingly exhilarating experience knowing our Lady's shier and sweeter tendencies. And no guitar on sight. One year later, tUnE-yArDs will make something similar, if more explosive, all over their debut album, and the next one, and the next one.

The acoustic guitar makes a come back on "Vive Solo", leading its way almost lazily, one chord relaxedly strummed, through the song. A more toned down affair closer to Molina's usual mood with delicate percussion rim-clicks or hand-claps or both and a hypnotic sub-bass modulation. Juana's multi-tracked vocals serve once again as a thematic link between the various polyrhythms, a technique repeated through the entire album.

The deceleration is even more sensible on the evanescent and near amorphous "Lo Dejamos", one of the slowest and darkest songs on the album, with extremely low frequency rumbling drones and soft metallic clatters. Extra layers of percussion are added until only minimal electronics and a softly finger-tipped acoustic guitar remain, Juana whispering something that resembles much an actual song. Its end near subliminally vibrates to lead to the next "Los Hongos De Marosa", a much livelier and even danceable affair, which would not pale in comparison to the best techno deconstructionists works, Molina's using a similar technique of adding layer upon layer of looped effects, electronics and beats around her circular guitar pattern to create a rather trance-inducing head-bobbing feet-tapping momentum. The follower "Quién? (Suite)" seems to arch back to the song "Quién?" on "Segundo" but it looks more like a variation on the theme, it is besides totally wordless and completely made up of now favored harmonic and rhythmic onomatopoeia. A rather downtempo groovey thing with some purring synth bass line, which could reflect one other Molina's early inspiration, the purr of the very elevator that brought little Juana to her grandma's apartment, and other various percussion. The song ends up with Juana's slightly nerve-racking extended ululation, something like a high-pitched variation on Tuva's deep throat singing.

Each of those three last tracks last over the seven-minute mark and could be considered like one long suite where Juana Molina's vocals sound remarkably like some warmer and gentler version of Joan La Barbara or Sidsel Endresen experiments with a light touch of Meredith Monk. Compared to these three lengthy pieces, "El Vistado" seems pretty conventional but melodically absolutely beautiful, something like their poppier appendix or summary. "No Llama" disposes mainly of slower melodic embroideries of guitars and bass with more liquid sounding electronics, watery percussion and Molina's live sung mantras, the result being particularly oneiric, psychedelic folk diva Linda Perhacs comes to mind, or even Julia Holter.

It is worth mentioning the presence of guitarist Gareth Dickson on four tracks, he is responsible for an album entirely composed of Nick Drake's songs under the debatable artist name Nicked Drake. Indeed both Juana and Gareth seem to share some similar inspiration from the left-too-early English bard's finger-picking technique on the acoustic guitar.

The closer "Dar (Qué Dificil)" moves the whole album leitmotiv onto ethno-electro-tribal dance music with a fast-paced relentless near techno beat and an acoustic rock guitar riff all wrapped into Juana's singular vocals and colorful bouquet of wood and metallic percussion for a final almost seven minutes shamanic jamboree. I don't know why but it makes me think of J.G. Thirlwell's Steroïd Maximus.

The largest part of "Un Dia" could sometimes looks like Juana Molina was jamming ecstatically with herself while retaining a steady focus on a homogeneous and organized end result. There is something close to the most spontaneous jazz aesthetic all through the different tracks proposed here. This is an underestimated masterpiece from a master of a genre all her own. I could see this album as Juana Molina's own "Rock Bottom".

8.5 out of 10


  1. After only one listen of the first song, I'm hooked. Will definitely go back to her.
    Thanks, Spook!

    1. You're welcome, Elfy, and thank you for coming around, my friend.


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