Feria Music, Chile
by Enrique Coyotzi
Daughter of Chilean parents and born in San Francisco, California, Francisca Valenzuela moved to Chile at the age of 12. There she received heavy media coverage in 2007 with Muérdete la Lengua, a debut that showcased the multi-instrumentalist’s praiseworthy skills and scathing teenage-angst lyrics. The album's bitter adolescent tone made it an instant hit that established Valenzuela as a national sensation. With her sophomore effort, Buen Soldado, the artist’s notorious thirst for musical expansion, just like her immersion in social thematic issues, reveal a more grown-up work in multiple terms that denotes an admirable maturity.
Similar to Julieta Venegas’ transition from menacing alt-rocker to sweet pop rock princess, Valenzuela’s compositions have become more sugary and her lyrics less melodramatic. Produced by Canada's Mocky (Feist, Jamie Lidell) and Chile's Vicente Sanfuentes aka Original Hamster (Gepe, Señor Coconut), Buen Soldado is balanced between songs in this new upbeat direction and calmer, piano-based pieces. Whereas thematics about longing, spite, and solitude are still present, the songwriter has adopted a more serious facet, focusing on social aspects like unemployment, poverty, and national freedom. The singer’s approach in adopting male perspectives in some of these tracks is noteworthy, depicting a very rich imagery within the striking stories they narrate. Album opener "Buen Soldado" starts like an arid spaghetti-western epic that suddenly shows its '60s go-go inspirations. Here, Valenzuela comically assumes the point of view of a respected soldier with "un buen rabo" that has no problem in obtaining anything he desires, especially in the low-life bars he visits. The gloomy "Crónica" is a dismal tale about a man that commits murder in order to feed his family. In "Entrevista" the uncertainty about obtaining a job and anxiety of failing at a work interview are achingly captured, while "Salvador" exposes a citizen's desire to become a credible leader that directs his nation to a beneficent change.
Full of memorable choruses, incredible vocal delivery, and some of Francisca's best work (see the impossibly catchy "Quiero Verte Más" or moving friendship ode "Qué Sería"), the only problem to be found in Buen Soldado is in its inconsistency, musically and thematically. Ballads like "Corazón" or "En Mi Memoria," while beautiful, break the cheerful mood of the record, lyrically are sort of cheesy, and in essence would fit better on a Bat for Lashes or Cat Power album. Empowering songs for women, like "Mujer Modelo" and "Ésta Soy Yo," are equally amazing, although probably hard for a guy to relate to. Even though the topics in Buen Soldado are pretty mixed up, Francisca Valenzuela has managed to create a solid second record that, although not as ambitious as the work of some of her visionary compatriots (Javiera Mena, Fakuta), makes her a distinguished representative of the Chilean pop army.