Music Reviews
Wed 21

Juana Molina Wed 21

(Crammed Discs) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10

The problem with being too consistent is that it’s oftentimes looked upon as a weakness, when in truth, it can take many forms. Argentinean singer-songwriter Juana Molina has set her own course for over fifteen years, steadily reinventing herself in an almost imperceptible manner. She’s a true individual who’s never been swayed by prevailing musical trends, converting her minimal psych-folk suites into intoxicating soundscapes of awe and wonder. She never falls into predictable patterns, though each succeeding effort feels a little bit more familiar, as if we’re gradually shaping the sum of her eccentricities.

Wed 21 marks her return after a five year absence, the longest she’s been idle after a ceaseless stream of records under the Domino imprint. And though she continues to explore the meeting point of acoustic and electronic instrumentation, there’s a significant change in how she handles all the ornate accoutrements she plays with. There’s still a fastidious attention to detail, interpolating all its rhythmic entanglements until they create some kind of abstract dot-do-dot drawing. Her unconventional way of splicing guitar parts with jarring synth textures are still the norm, but instead of winding them into looped, extended ambient explorations, she’s mostly aiming for more compact, but just as umcompromised, compositions that accidentally resemble the structure of an actual song.

Those limber, signature chords immediately strike with forceful motion in Eras, in which a chirping Molina applies a funk-tinged groove against a frenetic collage of marred vocals and pinging effects. Those eclectic flourishes she injects have never sounded as lively, and in Ferocisimo, she continues that behavior with a barrage of improvised percussive hits and slinky bass leads. But beneath the joy there’s an air of confrontation: she questions, "Quien decidió determiner si es un adios [Who decided to determine if this is goodbye]," in Lo Decidí Yo, and goes on to repeat, I did, with a bitter taste of independence. Its fizzing Kraut synths and tribal thumps perfectly reflect this fervor, as they sound agitated and free.

Molina has never been one to wear her heart on her sleeve, and as this Spanish speaker can attest, Lo Decidí Yo is about as intimate as it gets. She relishes her poetic abstractions too much, and as such, even a bilingual listener may lift an eyebrow with a look of deep puzzlement. Luckily, she transcends the barriers of language all too well by constructing sounds that match with the feelings they invoke - Sin Guía no [Without Guidance] drifts aimlessly, creating feelings of disorientation and confusion, its dissonant fret work and measured gruff stomps emphasized with a paranoid tension.

Wed 21 takes a turn towards the eerie once it reaches its second half, as its mostly amorphous in design. A song like Las Edades is built around a tenebrous low-register chord progression, and though it’s the more traditional arrangement in the entire album, it holds you captive with a flurry of blood-curdling chants and skronky sax blasts. This more experimental quality is like child’s play for Molina, and in the tangled six-minute El Oso de la Guarda, she lets go off that restraint by bringing those indulgences to the fore: the anxious plea of Oso starts with a bevy of springy, macabre synths and pounding thumps that mesh together oddly, and without much subtlety, ends with what sounds like a creaking door meshed with a muted theremin backdrop, making for an interesting, yet confusing listen. Some of these drab sonic workouts put a brake on the punchy momentum of its first half; they serve more as technically precise filler that merely showcases her talents as an arranger, much to the detriment of the album as a cohesive experience.

There’s a lot to take in throughout Wed 21’s richly layered and complex matrices, but in no way do they hinder Molina’s streak of keeping things minimal. It’s quite a remarkable achievement considering she took upon the challenge of creating each and every detail, making it even tougher for her followers to even try to emulate her singular vision. She remains an outsider whose tight-locked in her own space, peering from a barred window in hopes that the outside world makes sense out of her disarray of sounds. She manages to unnerve us with a sinister smile for the duration of our stay, and invites us to explore the mad in all of us.