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Even When She Tries to Be Bad, She’s Just Too Good

August 21st, 2009

Juana Molina – Music Hall of Williamsburg – August 20, 2009

Juana Molina

Argentinean electronic folk artist Juana Molina has been working hard to show her serious side. Performing tracks from her latest release, Un Dia, the former comedic actress proved she can live loop and sample with the best of them. But she doesn’t just rely on effects and pedals to create those lush layers of loops. Her vocals have become the primary instrument in her ever-changing melodic landscapes. The few intelligible lyrics are in Spanish, but Molina has overcome the problem of performing for an English-speaking audience by almost doing away with language altogether. Her vocalizations aren’t stand-ins for meaning, but rather, they’ve transcended into pure sound—a defining, human sound she piled all the way up into the balcony of Music Hall of Williamsburg last night.

Molina wasn’t about to break up the songs either. They flowed together as the tides of samples rose and faded with a push of the pedal or a turn of a knob. She coaxed them from meandering ambience into pounding, overwhelming rhythms. This was complex orchestration for anyone to recreate. So it was staggering to see a solo artist capable of taming such typically stubborn electronics as easily as Molina does. She deliberately exposes herself to the audience with the process because she essentially creates the songs in front of you. Live, she builds the intricate layers individually, slightly different each time—like a successful brain surgery of sound night after night. And yet, she still makes jokes, like pretending to be a terrible, out-of-tune folk singer, which really wasn’t all that funny, because even when she tries to be bad, she’s just too good. —Jason Dean