It’s the finer details in a work of art that often set it apart. Whether it’s a particularly fine brush stroke or a smart stylistic touch from a director, it’s those small things that elevate a work of art from great to brilliant. Juana Molina is an artist who seems to know this well because ‘Halo’ is an album rich with small touches and subtle quirks that make it yet another entry into one of the most idiosyncratic and ingenious discographies in contemporary alternative music.
Completely free of genre restraints, ‘Halo’ is an album that exists purely on its own terms. It’s independently spirited but it’s certainly not indie. It’s buzzing with synthesizers though it’s anything but electronica and it has a gentle, acoustic sway at times despite being nothing like folk. Those familiar with Molina’s last six albums – released periodically over the last twenty years or so – won’t be surprised by ‘Halo’s wilful genre-hopping and individuality; it’s been a signature of all Molina’s albums to lesser or greater extent. Indeed, though hugely creative, ‘Halo’ is actually not entirely unlike it’s 2013 predecessor ‘Wed 21’.
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Her last effort moved away from the often pastoral acoustica of her mid 2000’s efforts towards a landscape of surreal electronic ambience and squelchy, rhythmic synthesizers. Molina’s effortlessly melodic vocals were still front and centre but the pace had changed somewhat – soft space-folk reveries were often traded for a sound that, if not harder, was at least a little more sprightly. ‘Halo’ continues in broadly the same direction but with some divergence. Opener ‘Paraguaya’ may, at first glace, not seem all too different from the opener to her previous long player – both couple Molina’s innately melodic vocals with a ceaseless bass synth line and urgently creeping rhythm. However, as with so much of ‘Halo’ it’s the finer details – a creeping staccato string line here, a clattering rhythm there – that allow ‘Paraguaya’ to stand distinct not only in Molina’s discography but in music as a whole.
Although ‘Halo’ does lean strongly towards the more electronic aspects of Molina’s past work, there’s more than enough sonic variety to keep things fresh. The bright, urgent enthusiasm of ‘Cosoco’ gets its energy from the relentless drums and brisk guitar; not entirely trading in the electronics, but certainly shifting attention away from them. The mournful ‘Lentísimo Halo’ goes in completely the opposite direction, stripping away all but the low-key hum of a sole synthesizer and Molina’s soulful voice, here taken down to little more than a whisper. ‘Halo’ is an album that relishes in extremes of style and mood – at times melancholic and understated, at others joyous and wild. Any album with a run time as considerable as ‘Halo’ – the best part of an hour – needs to boast considerable variety but none the less, it’s an album with a dazzling array of ideas on display.
Vital to the success of ‘Halo’ is that it’s originality never feels forced. Within the context of the world Molina has so immaculately crafted, every strange touch not only makes sense but feels deeply logical and intuitive. The album has a glowing ambience radiating from it, and it’s one that sews together this hugely diverse set of songs with a sense of continuity essential throughout the album’s not insignificant run time. Like so much of Molina’s music before it, ‘Halo’ is an innately avant garde record but one that is never inaccessible to those with an open mind. No matter who you are, if you’re willing to listen, Juana Molina has plenty of songs to play you.