Juana Molina’s songs have always been a congregation of electronic and acoustic sounds that bounce off one another in messy and sensuous ways. Ever since hearing Segundo, I’ve been captivated by the way her instruments interact to synthesize environments of sound. Although her music is always bound by strong melodies and persistent rhythms, Molina’s arrangements create a sense of unity that emphasizes a totality rather than a particular part. On Un Dia, Molina has taken that approach further into the abstract and sewn together an album that thrives on connectivity and harmony.
The opening and title track begins everything with the roar of Molina’s voice. With the trumpeting of her throat, a parade of rhythmic vocal dubs flow from the speakers and a wave of various instruments follow suit. In the past, Molina’s voice has sometimes been a soft and airy addition to her music, but on “Un Dia” it is the focus. Even as hordes of percussive and harmonic additions work their way into the mix, it is Molina’s persistent voice that takes center stage. Throughout much of the album her voice is the entity holding everything together and she imitates her utterances across a myriad of tones and timbres, finding parallels in rumbling pianos, buzzing electronics, and kitchen-sink percussion. The result are songs with recognizable hooks and distinct parts that nonetheless solidify into an organic mass. The whole is greater than its parts, but Molina’s voice is the conductor.
Nothing that follows “Un Dia” is quite as bombastic. “Vive Solo” begins with a softly plucked guitar and Molina’s reverb-thick voice. It sucks up and employs tribal rhythms and atmospherics over time, gradually increasing in intensity as additional elements begin to surface. Yet, it never reaches a fevered pitch. Molina takes joy in finding a place for new textures and approaches in every song; she’s capable of writing an entire record’s worth of ideas into one five minute space without sacrificing continuity. Dissonance, chaos, organization, ugliness, and beauty sit side by side on songs like “Los Hongos de Marosa” and “Dar (Qué Difícil).” Without flinching, Molina blends snappy, dance-like rhythms with detuned guitars, haunting moans, half-muffled electronic bass, and disheveled effects. The final product is not, amazingly, a muddy soup of sound, but a lush stream of music.
It seems there’s no end to what Molina is willing to toss into the mix. It is as though someone threw her into a room filled with musical toys and she found a way to use every last one of them on her record. Her songs have always been full of random noise and her music has always been a synthesis of musical approaches. What makes Un Dia stand out in her catalog is the depth of her production and the quality of her writing. On past albums some of her chaotic playfulness could be a bit distracting, but here it is an essential element. Every single bit of sound is necessary for the success of the whole. This album is filled to the brim with exotic sounds and unexpected twists, some of which fly by the first few times because of the album’s dynamic character. Molina has outdone herself with Un Dia and expanded upon her song-writing formula. She is still firmly writing within the realm of pop music, but she’s stretching its conventions to their extremes.