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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
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Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Juana Molina

Rating: 8/10 ?

June 2, 2006
One day Juana Molina might learn to speak fluent bird and become the Jane Goodall of ornithology. But for right now, the South American folk artist can only try to mimic her winged friends' chaotic sound patterns on Son, her third U.S. release. Impressionistic and softly focused, Son takes Nick Drake's misty folk artistry about as far off the grid as one could imagine, ending up in the wilds of Molina's native Argentina and getting lost in the vertiginous bird sanctuaries Molina calls songs.

In her own words, Molina says she is creating melodic drawings with different combinations of modes and sounds, and though the mild, jazzy tone of the album never changes, each shape-shifting composition is an adventure. Nature does indeed have a language, as Morrissey said in The Smiths' bouncy pop classic "Ask," and when he asks, "Can't you read?" Molina isn't able to answer in the affirmative, but she's learning to understand it.

A grand experiment in vocal manipulation, Son makes Bjork's Medulla seem like child's play. Harmonies, sung entirely in Spanish, are constantly in motion, often moving at cross-purposes but eventually they sync up and merge together to form pathways winding through a lush jungle of noises. What sounds like hundreds of vocal loops are seamlessly integrated into lustrous, Latin-influenced melodies, smoothly diving in and out of simple backdrops of glistening acoustic guitar, warped electronica, pitter-pat percussion, low-profile bass and a combination of cymbals and rich gongs. Breezy and somewhat impish, Molina's singing can be clear and pure, but also breathy and sensual, like a Kristin Hersh or a Rebecca Gates. When she's mouthing actual words she plays it straight, but the inarticulate "oohs," "ahhs," "na na na nas" and "la la las" sway back and forth in cult-ish reverie. And when Molina is flushed from the trees, like the birds she studies, her sudden, jerking movements and dizzying swoops are enough to make a person's head swim.

No caged bird, Molina uses her unfettered imagination to produce multi-layered vocal treatments that turn traditional folk structures inside out. In "Yo No," warped horn sounds and a repeating guitar pattern vie for air with soft beats as Molina exhales short, percussive breaths in a style not so far removed from Bobby McFerrin. More dense is the vocal thicket of "Un Beso Ilega," with its woozy trumpet, alley-cat meowing and Molina's wild orgy of modulation. Actual bird chattering can be heard in "La Verdá," a mélange of oddly shaped, Boards Of Canada-styled electronic mutations, muted beats, rhythmic strumming and natural sounds, while "No Seas Antipática," with its thick, layered vocals and golden acoustic melody, descends the same compositional staircase Hersh haunted in Hips And Makers.

Taking a more somber turn, "Micael" twirls methodically to Molina's plucked acoustic notes while cloaked in Molina's vocalized velvet lining. Arty and pretentious, the title track is as close to a drone as Molina's going to get and it's the weakest moment on Son, but she finds her voice again in the disquieting, tribal atmosphere of "Las Culpas," opting to explore the sonorous blues depths of Leadbelly with a Latin guide. Led out of those holes of despair, Molina kicks Sea And Cake-style post-rock off its axis on "Malherido" and "Desordenado," once again weaving together disparate strands of sound into knotted ropes of silky tropicalia that tie together simple acoustic rounds and disorienting electronica with intoxicating singing, producing one of the most exotic electro-folk blends of today or possibly any era.

The Son also rises, much as Molina's Segundo and Tres Cosas did before it. Progressing into undeveloped territory that perhaps only Tom Zé would even think of entering, Molina is expanding boundaries, seeing how much she can get away with and still be aesthetically pleasing. In essence, she's opening a south-of-the-equator Stereolab of her own and if Laetitia Sadier and company are so inclined, a fact-finding visit to Molina's lair might just point them in a new direction as well.

Reviewed by Peter Lindblad
Peter Lindblad lives in Appleton, Wis., and bleeds green and gold just like all the Packer fan nutjobs in the area. He does draw the line at wearing blocks of chedder on his head, or any other body parts for that matter, though. His professional career has taken weird twists and turns that have led him to his current position as an editor at a coin magazine. He hopes his stay there will be a short one. Before that, he worked as an associate editor at a log home magazine. To anyone that will listen, he\'ll swear that Shiner was one of the greatest rock bands to ever walk the earth. Yet he also has much love for Superchunk, Spoon, DJ Shadow, Swervedriver, Wilco, Fugazi, Jawbox, ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Modest Mouse, among others.

See other reviews by Peter Lindblad



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