November 17, 2013

Juana Molina, "Wed 21"

Juana is from Argentina. I usually drop this bit of information whenever I’m recommending her music, and it’s polarizing. The person either warms up and wants to hear her, or they politely turn their nose. If they grow cold, it’s probably due to bad memories of Putumayo CDs in college, or the too-safe stuff they play on the NPR world music hour. Maybe they don’t speak Spanish and they just like music they can sing along to. But even the people who are into the idea are often greeted by something completely unexpected. Juana — while admittedly the NPR darling of late — makes truly transcendent music. Her sound is exotic, but not as some flavor of cumbia or tango or tropicalia. Yeah, she sings in Spanish, but the exoticism comes from somewhere else, from a corner of the subconscious. This stuff is beautifully bizarre. Largely electronic at the base, then embellished with acoustic guitar, gongs and mallet percussion, electric bass, more keyboards, and her breathy, supple voice on top, it’s a psychedelic stew of discovery. If you’re familiar with the records Juana’s been pumping out for the last ten years, Wed 21 shows her changing gears a bit. It’s her first record in five years, and she’s obviously spent her downtime refining her approach. There’s less acoustic guitar on this record, and she spends less time fiddling with her loop pedals. But the beats are riper. The layers are thicker, not in number but in content. Overall, it’s a darker and heavier listen than the gentle stuff that defined the early part of her career. Also, every song has a pulse. It’s dance music. Maybe more braindance for some, but everybody’s got something up there that needs shaking.