Juana Molina
Tres Cosas

By Ed Chamberlin

Martine McCutcheon played Tiffany on EastEnders, before breaking away into the music career she 'always wanted to pursue', in which her fame conveniently prevented her immediate failure. Brave move that. Of course, her material was abominable and despite/because of this she hit the now meaningless number one slot a few times. On the other side of the world, a similar career change was being made. Juana Molina used to be among the most famous comediennes on Argentinean mainstream TV. But where McCutcheon used her celebrity to kickstart a totally pointless musical career, Molina backed away from her notoriety (not even appearing on album covers) to make some experimental and introspective electronic-tinged folk music.

While that is rare and impressive in itself, what astounds is how successful she has been with it. Tres Cosas is her third release and finds her moving further into the enchanted forest of echo-y folk and abstract electronics. Opening with the creeping acoustic guitar line of No Es Tan Cierto, she gradually weaves a web of breathy vocals, chants, rhythms, cross-rhythms and atmospherics that is both experimental without being precious, and charming without being saccharine. Throughout the record she sticks to this formula, yet the sound is never boring. Molina lets her songs develop on their own terms, never forcing them against their will to fit into conventional structures, and allowing them to roam freely. The effect is somewhat like leaves blowing in a mini-cyclone on a windy day – you can see a circle being made, but the individual leaves move unpredictably, and before you know it, the mini-cyclone is gone. The sounds themselves are lighter than air; Molina doesn't possess the strongest of voices and she knows and accepts that, adopting a soft, childish whisper. The guitars are so fragile that they disappear almost totally under even the slightest keyboard sound, and even when, on the title track, a fairly steady 4/4 beat kicks in, you only notice it when you find yourself inexplicably nodding your head.

Yet within these delicate constraints, there is drama and tension. The soft rise to the chorus of Salvese Quién Puede would not make much of an impression in most cases, but here it is tantamount to a seismic event: beautiful and emotional. Some songs, by contrast, don't quite hit the mark. Yo Sé Que drags you through a bland series of drones for too long before Molina's voice mercifully blossoms into a cascade of echos, but by that point you are tempted to hit the forward button. These moments are rare, however, and as the album progresses you get more involved. Sólo Su Voz and its swooning cello and the devastatingly simple Cúrame, the longest track here, are engrossing and atmospheric.

Although her music has been of a consistently high quality throughout her career, on Tres Cosas Juana Molina has found a truly original voice and sound, tucked away in her own little forest. You wouldn't see Cat Deely doing that now would you?
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