Argentinian singer/songwriter and actress/comedian Juana Molina has always been, as a musician, a restrained, playful electrofolk artist who has never quite let loose enough to reach her full potential. Considering that Molina hosted a popular comedy show in Argentina during the ’90s, it was surprising that 2004’s Tres Cosas, 2006’s Son, and 2008’s Un Día were fine releases that seemed, if anything, a bit too tasteful.
But now, Molina has released perhaps her best effort. Wed 21 is a rich, layered, and fun collection of 11 tracks that don’t sacrifice playfulness for taste. “Tasteful” is often a musical descriptor that can turn off adventurous listeners, but Wed 21 is, thankfully, adventurous itself. This is certainly not the boring, expected, out-of-cultural-context bossanova-lite heard in overpriced coffee shops the world over. Wed 21 is instead enjoyable because it’s unpredictable.
Much like John Wizards’ great self-titled LP from this year, Wed 21 is an album that positions its creator at the forefront of musicians who combine a wholeheartedly local sound with global electronic trends. There are parts of Wed 21 with instrumentals that wouldn’t be out of place on a Radiohead record, but it’s also a proudly Argentinian record sung almost entirely in Spanish.
It’s fitting, then, that the album’s first track is the excellent Eras, which combines everything Molina does well into one song: mix languages, mix acoustic with electronic sounds, mix genres, and mix the listener’s conception of “taste” with some fun. The song begins with stomping drums, and then a pounding bass enters, offbeat, along with dextrous acoustic guitar and Molina’s sensual voice. Even the part of the song where Molina counts in Spanish comes across as not Bono-level absurdity but surreally cheeky, as it’s coupled with slinky guitars and warped percussion.
Equally worthy of soundtracking a Spanish-language spy flick is the horns-laden Sin Guia No, which combines Molina’s effortlessly sneaky delivery with even slinkier guitars than on Eras. On Sin Guia No and on Wed 21 in general, it’s easy to zone out, but that’s not a bad thing. Getting lost in Molina’s universe makes for a wonderfully strange trip.
Those for whom Eras is still a little too cutesy will be entranced by Wed 21’s weird title track, whose creaky, machine-like beat is almost not danceable at all. In the past, many looking to dance have been put off by the all-too-civilized Euro trappings of Molina’s music. Here, dancing isn’t even a suggestion; technically, there is a beat to dance to, but not one that would be particularly fun to dance to. If Molina’s music in the past could have soundtracked fancy vodka commercials, many of the songs on Wed 21 could soundtrack the highs and lows of a psychedelic drug experience.
Even the most “pop” song on the album, Lo Decidí Yo, is backed by a glitchy, almost Dan Deacon-like synth line (which is in turn sometimes complemented by militaristic marching band drumming). The song’s arpeggiated, high-pitched, glockenspiel-like percussion gives it a creepy, foreboding quality; Nico or Francoise Hardy this isn’t. Overall, from the Hail To The Thief-like guitar line and giddy chorus of Ferocisimo to the undeniable Eras, Wed 21 is an album that might not change any lives but is full of surprises nonetheless. Molina has always known her audience, but Wed 21 has the potential to gain her new fans – people who appreciate music not easily defined by genre, or even by words.