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Juana Molina - Tres Cosas

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Artist: Juana Molina

Album: Tres Cosas

Label: Domino

Review date: May. 20, 2004

If the cover art on her first two US albums is any indication, Juana Molina wishes to remain something of an enigma: 2003’s Segundo pictured her face concealed behind a formidable blond mane, while her latest, Tres Cosas reveals only her silhouette, its shadowy features distorted into a grotesque carnival mask. While listeners in her native Argentina may not fully feel the effects of the self-concealment – she apparently used to be a huge television star – it provides an apt counterpart to Molina’s understated and ethereal music. The thirteen tracks on Tres Cosas, all composed, mixed, and recorded by Molina herself, exhibit the warmth and intimacy typical of homemade solo projects, yet retain an air of inscrutable mystery.

Most of the music on Tres Cosas follows a simple but effective formula: Molina starts off each track with a repeated acoustic guitar motif, then proceeds to add layers of synthesizers and vocals. Acoustic and synthetic blend together seamlessly, largely due to Molina’s impressively subtle synth manipulation. While it might be a bit deceptive to call her a minimalist, she stretches a little bit a long way, with most tracks running four to five minutes in length. As on Segundo, most of the songs melt together into an indistinguishable blur, although there are several surprisingly poppy and accessible moments (“Salvese quien pueda,” “Solo su voz”). While Molina’s austere compositions and arrangements come across as somewhat dry and self-indulgent at first, their stylistic coherence reveals a strikingly well-developed aesthetic. This is clearly music that flows out effortlessly and naturally, free from oppressive influences or self-consciousness. While I can’t claim to have understood many of the lyrics (all in Spanish, aside from one song in French), Molina’s songs convey the same kind of coolly detached mellowness that Americans tend to associate with South American music; aside from mood, though, they share little in common with Latin staples Jobim and Veloso. It’s the ambience sustained across the album, rather than any particularly impressive moments, that makes Tres Cosas more than an offbeat curiosity.

Molina succeeds in creating a sound refreshingly unfamiliar and exotic; in this respect, it very much resembles the recent offerings from Joanna Newsom and Devendra Banhart. Like both of these artists, Juana Molina is a natural born iconoclast, capable of developing a totally personal aesthetic that defies comparison and categorization. With an album as unassumingly beguiling as Tres Cosas, she can afford to keep her face hidden.

By Michael Cramer

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