Originally posted on Fat Planet, 2006
Some recent background text on Juana Molina described her as a “stealth artist”, deploying her true depth with such subtle maneouvers that it’s dangerously easy to dismiss her with a cursory listen. Fortunately, her latest album Son sees her innovation brought to the fore, making her nigh on impossible to ignore.
Rewinding through Molina’s backstory, we find that catapulted out of her native argentina at the age of 12 – the family decamping to paris to escape the coup. on her return six years later, Juana was determined to follow her fathers footsteps into music, however the cash required to live and learn was not quickly forthcoming. In an odd quirk of fate, she found herself stumbling into the television industry – the culmination of this trajectory being the central star of the sketch show Juana Y Sus Hermanas (‘Juana and Her Sisters’). The show was a phenomenal hit in the Spanish-speaking world, so much so that street recognition was all too commonplace. The transition out of that world and into a credible career in music was not one that came easy – early audiences only appearing in the auditorium to insist that she replay her comedy routines.
Her first three albums are a world apart from Spanish sketch show comedy – in fact, she managed to pull off a move akin to Jerry Seinfeld recording an album of abstract, minimal electro, and getting a 9.9 from Pitchfork for his troubles. Album number two Seguendo earned a ‘Best World Music Album’ gong from Entertainment Weekly, while Tres Cosas grabbed a top ten spot in The New York Times ‘albums of the year’ in 2004.
For album number four, Juana has opted to further develop the style of production that she usually reserves for live performances – that of live sound loops. Beginning with basic instrumentation and vocals, Molina records short loops from that source, and upon that audio builds layer upon layer of new sounds. From this seemingly rudimentary basis, the most astonishing textures develop. Mining seams ploughed by the likes of Animal Collective or Bjork‘s Medulla, Son leaves most comparisons in its considerable wake – and reserves a special clip around the ears for anyone daring to whisper the ‘folktronica’ tag. Whilst this may be a land where the electronic and acoustic converge, the end product deviates so far from the previous maps of the territory that you’re hesitant to force it into any genre description whatsoever.
From such a rich collection, it’s hard to find one track that exemplifies the journey – Micael, with its pots and pans percussion and odd argentinian skat, at least gives you a quick stab in the arm and hopefully urges you to investigate further. Although it’s a truism for most good albums, Son is truly best served as a complete end-to-end listen; repeat three or four times over and it may well nudge its way into your own top tens for 2006.
DOWNLOAD MP3: JUANA MOLINA Micael
Son is available now through Domino Records. Also highly recommend is last year’s Solvese Quien Pueda‘ Remix 12″ with two mixes from label mate, Four Tet, and Juana’s own eight minute rerub that clearly signposted the way into this new release.