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Juana Molina - Segundo

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Artist: Juana Molina

Album: Segundo

Label: Domino

Review date: Dec. 17, 2003

Segundo is the American debut of Argentinean Juana Molina. Well known as a television comedian in her homeland, Molina may soon have renown abroad. Segundo is offensively accessible - not that aficionados of inscrutable music will be piqued. Segundo's accessibility actually plays offense. It’s a generous album: each song is a modest act of philanthropy that hands the listener a small ration of joy. Molina should be heralded not only as singer-songwriter or electronic artist; she combines the acoustic with the electronic in a fresh way that subordinates neither. Electronics do not smother vocals; vocals never eclipse electronics. On Segundo everything hums.

Molina’s production obviously strove for intimacy. Her vocals are shades away from a whisper, sensitively recorded, and raised in the mix. The instrumentation, guitar and synthesizer with little bass or live drumming, lends itself to a clear, light sound. With a couple somber exceptions, the songs are emotionally cool, with hints of melancholy keeping them from being unflinchingly upbeat.

Molina’s vocals pin the listener immediately. Fortunate for the non-Spanish speaker, she is as concerned with the voice’s potential for creating textures as she is with its delivery of lyrics. (The track “Mantra del bicho feo” is fueled by the “la-la-la” to great effect.) Vowel sounds are stretched out to make sustained tones. Many vocals are multi-tracked, thickening the mix and adding a euphoric quality.

Any categorization of Molina as singer-songwriter is compromised by her extensive use of electronics. The collision of voice and acoustic guitar with synth and electronics moves Segundo into sublime territory. The combination works not because the acoustic and electronic blend into a seamless, organic whole, but because they don’t. Each agent keeps a necessary individuality and autonomy. The seams create beautiful harmonic and rhythmic tensions. Synths provide competing melodies, weaving around and knocking into Molina’s vocals. Spare electronic beats mix with vocal and guitar rhythms for engrossing polyrhythms. It’s in these passages that Segundo entrances, threatening to dissolve the listener so inclined into quiet frisson. While a zone-out potential is there, Molina often thwarts the possibility with musical speed bumps that tempt a more concentrated listen.

Segundo is relentlessly handsome. While the album is never so sweet as to leave a cavity, the uniformity of its cool emotional pitch may wear thin during the album’s 70 minutes. But these are also minutes that, to Molina’s credit, are so pleasurable they evaporate with little notice.

By Sean Casey

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