Some time ago, two coworkers of mine were debating over the nature of music. One said its language was universal, and that all can be united with the common interest of good music. The other said that music was a cultural language, and that no single unifying type of music speaks for all people. At the time I wasn’t sure where I stood, myself being passionate about music but not having much interest in “world” music. Thanks to Juana Molina, however, I can safely say that they were both right.
Juana Molina’s third album, Tres Cosas is an exercise in cultural unification, whether she intended it that way or not. The Argentine born singer (and former comedienne) makes music that is at once exotic and accessible. Though Molina sings primarily in Spanish, non-speakers can latch on to her music easily, as its melodicism and innovation speak to all.
To put it simply, Molina plays folk music augmented by electronic textures. But that’s putting it too simply, really. And though she is, at times, very minimalistic, Juana Molina’s style offers myriad surprises. At first listen, “No Es Tan Cierto” is quite bare — a simple acoustic guitar melody lays a backdrop for Molina’s soothing voice. But during the chorus, Molina reverts to a refrain of “ee-ee/ah-ahhhh,” while some simple percussion and atmospheric whirring drop into the song, adding density to the song without making it overindulgent.
On the title track, Molina ups the electronics, veering closer to Stereolab territory. And near the end of the album, on “Filter Taps” and “El Progreso,” her use of samples goes a step further, resembling the baroque, experimentalism of Broadcast.
Yet songs like “Isabel,” “¡Uh!” and “Sólo Su Voz” are much more straightforward guitar-driven songs, without much synth experimentation to be found. And though Molina mostly sings in Spanish, album closer “Insensible” sees the singer opting for a French lyric over a minor key piano melody.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that Juana Molina could be filed under “world music.” She does, after all, sing in Spanish and, occasionally, French. But her songwriting style fits in so comfortably alongside American and British acts that it only touches upon her wide array of influences. The language of Juana Molina’s music is universal.
Movietone – Sand and Stars
Mus – El Naval
Broadcast – haha Sound
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.