You are forgiven for not having heard of Juana Molina. Before being handed a copy of her third album Tres Cosas, I had never heard of her either – and it’s my job to know these kinds of things.
Juana, in short, hails from Buenos Aires, and began to make her mark on the international scene with the release of her second LP Segundo (available on Domino records here in the UK). Segundo, as is my understanding, was a critical smash, picking up awards left, right and centre (including but not limited to Best World Music Album 2003 in Entertainment Weekly and a Shortlist Award 2004 nomination).
Tres Cosas (or “Three Things”), as such, represents a massive opportunity for the softly-spoken Argentinian beauty. Ms Molina, to her eternal credit, wrote, mixed and produced Tres Cosas all on her lonesome, even resisting what was surely a considerable temptation to sing in English, sticking instead to her native Spanish (apart from album closer Insensible, which is, in fact, a Franch language track).
“What about the bloody music?” I hear you ask. Don’t worry – I haven’t forgotten. In fact, how could I? Tres Cosas, as I had hoped ever since reading the label spiel, is absolutely gorgeous from start to finish. Imagine, if you will, sitting through 13 songs you barely understand; 13 delicately formed Latin folk songs; 13 sparse and ambient journeys; 13 tales of fragile acoustic guitar, gently layered with the subtlest of electronic sweeps and harmonies. It’s like a Super Furry Animals filler track turned all the way down, or, even better, the gossamer to Moon Safari’s velvet.
Inevitably, given that my Spanish is about as accomplished as Blazin’ Squad are authentic, it’s hard to pick out a highlight. I won’t, however, level a criticism at Tres Cosas for being too samey – I will instead admire its cohesive and natural progression, from No Es Tan Cierto’s tick-tock lull to Insensible’s fragile, melancholy piano (Yann Tiersen would be proud), via Ipanema stylings (Salvese Quien Pueda), brooding reverberation (Tres Cosas) and nursery rhyme simplicity (Isabel).
David Byrne champions her cause on the global scene, and Tres Cosas exhibits why: Juana clearly knows how to write for her strengths, and, as it turns out, has a voice to fall in love with. I’ve never known such a bare, traditionalist approach to be so utterly compelling. Tres Cosas is, without a doubt, a worthy addition to anyone’s collection, and the best reason to learn Spanish this side of Penelope Cruz.