Music Reviews
Un Dia

Juana Molina Un Dia

(Domino) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

It’s the tempo, stupid!

Alongside Portishead’s Third, this is the second album by a well-established artist that I’ve heard this year that’s left me disconcerted and pensive. Even after ten years of absence, I had a pretty clear concept of what any eventual return by the Bristol trio would sound like. And having reviewed the last three of Juana Molina’s previous four albums (all her output on Domino), I was also fairly sure I knew what to expect.

In the case of Portishead, we get an opener, Silence, that has weird Brazilian spoken word samples, is four times quicker than anything else they’ve ever done, and ends just as it’s starting, for no apparent reason, and then mental tracks like Machine Gun which suggest that part of the reason why they were away for so long was that they’d forgotten their music and had to learn it from scratch, using sticks and rocks.

The shock was, if not quite so great, then certainly notable with Juana Molina’s fifth studio album, Un día, whose title means “One day”. It’s got to the stage when I’m fairly sure I can dispense with her biog (I’ve already précised it three times, after all, on these very pages), and I was even ready for a spot of judicious self plagiarism in the descriptions of the songs: acoustic balm; a warm, sonic bath; a valvey musical head massage, etc etc.

It’s not quite that easy, though.

Firstly, I get the strong impression here that Molina is playing. Playing with her sound, with her voice, playing about with everything in her music, as if she now knows her own talents so well she can toss them into a box and pull them out in strange orders and for different purposes.

Secondly, probably most strikingly, it’s the tempo, like I said. The opening title track is way quicker than anything Molina has done before, and uses multi-layered, distorted vocals as the instrumental heart of the song, while hooks are added with what sounds like a prepared piano, or perhaps a half-filled radiator. The results are surprising, in particular when a digi-horn breaks in on about 4 minutes.

Thirdly, as well as being quicker, tracks are a lot longer – seven-minute efforts, even one tune, ¿Quién? (“Who?”), that announces itself as a “suite”. This gives a lot of room for ebb and flow, for changes of pace, for new sounds and instruments dropping in and out. The effects are strange at times. Lo dejamos (“Let’s leave it”) noodles its way into sounding like a Doors pseudo-jazz solo. But the next track, Los hongos de Morosa, shows that Molina’s game can work: an insistent, catchy acoustic guitar, squishy percussion, and her voice, cut and layered over several tracks, swirling around. At some stage it starts to sound like the synthesized music to an early computer game, only with reversed vocal samples over it.

There are moments when you can sense the temptation to head into uncharted territory: there’s a moment on El vestido that threatens to break into beatboxing. I’m not sure it wouldn’t have been enjoyable, but the track is compelling nonetheless. The album’s closer, Dar (qué difícil), is a dark, throbbing tune, led mostly by a bass guitar loop, unlike anything else in her oeuvre.

What remains from before? Vive solo is quite close to what devotees may have expected: the folksy electronica, Juana’s soothing voice. In a way, we’re witnessing the rest of the evolution that began on Son, as Molina experimented with the ways the human voice could be manipulated electronically, as an instrument. The difference now is that it’s wilder, faster, and much more unpredictable; her sixth album could be headed anywhere.