Juana Molina, Segundo

Douglas Wolk

By Douglas Wolk

on 04.22.11 in Reviews


Juana Molina

The second album by Argentinean singer Juana Molina calls attention to itself by understatement. Listen to it inattentively, and it's sunny background music, with more than a hint of vintage Latin-American pop (both Brazilian bossa nova and the Uruguayan music Molina has claimed is closer to her heart) — she's got a winsome, breathy voice, and her fingers scarcely brush the strings of her acoustic guitar. But as you pay closer attention to it, it keeps getting weirder, deeper and more beautiful, like the sound of a pond at night surrounded by frogs and bugs.

A breezy and beautiful collection of Latin-American pop that gets weirder and deeper the closer you listen

Actually, there's wildlife all over Segundo — both real and artificial. The album, Molina has said, was recorded mostly as first takes, at a time (1998-1999) when she was living in California; plenty of ambient sounds creep into the recording. "El Perro," in particular, has a lyric about an endlessly yapping dog that can occasionally be heard in its background (Molina treats it as a random percussion element, surrounded by a digital whine that keeps warping away from true pitch and rumbling electronic growls). And for a record that's more or less built around the meditative voice-and-guitar model, Segundo is actually richly layered with quiet but unearthly synthesizer tones and textures. They're subordinate to her calm, liquid singing — "technology must be a servant of music," she has said. In Molina's hands, though, technology is a particularly lithe and devoted servant: on the eight-minute "Mantra del Bicho Feo," she vocalizes wordlessly over squelchy, insectoid synths and rattling drums until all her handiwork fades away, and the only singers left are the birds who've been adding their harmonies since the beginning of the song.