Juana Molina Un Dia

[Domino; 2008]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: electronic, experimental
Others: Lali Puna, Aoki Takamasa & Tujiko Noriko, Stereolab

Read a couple reviews of Juana Molina’s previous albums and count how many times the words “ambient” and “folk” turn up. One critic even hyphenated them. But “ambient” implies mood or environment music, music with the function of decoration. Un Dia does set a mood and create an environment, but it demands the ear’s attention and defies reduction to function. And “folk” is, at best, a term with multiple meanings. In America and about American artists, it has come to mean consciously trad-oriented music with artistic emphasis on subject. About foreign artists, however, it usually means any music whose influences aren’t Anglophone.

But there’s nothing traditional about elaborate vocal collage or about the acid loops in “¿Quién?” or the drones in “El Vistado.” Un Dia is not remotely folk music — at least, it’s no more folk than were the many South American jazz musicians of previous eras who happened to use native percussion styles. Instead, Un Dia seems to fit in with an emerging and as-yet unarticulated genre of electronic or loop music, one that forgoes the futurist trappings of techno and electro in favor of eclecticism and a deliberately “organic” setting.

Un Dia is repetitious and very inventive. These aren’t structured songs with verses or melodies. Instead, each is constructed around a core rhythm, with elements phasing in and out as the piece progresses in much the same way that's expected of electronic music in general -- though the choice of sounds is far afield. Acoustic guitar is featured, though not prominently, as are a variety of odd synth sounds. Rhythms tend to consist of a single thumping beat pushed back into the recesses of the mix by the panoply of foreground elements, of which there’s rarely any one that dominates. Molina’s voice is everywhere, but it’s everywhere — vocals are layered and mixed evenly so that they interweave rather than punctuate.

The effect is occasionally unassuming. But at its best, Molina’s music is peculiar and highly individual. The organic lushness should please indie-pop fans reluctant to embrace synth music, while the emphasis on sound instead of structure holds appeal for fans of loop music who’ve grown bored of its now-familiar tropes.

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