Wed 21, Juana Molina
Crammed Discs, Argentina
by Carlos Reyes
Juana Molina warrants many descriptions: composer, noise stylist, humanist, beat maker and former comic. But we often forget to reference what makes her divine to the great spectrum of pop culture. Molina is a master of horror. Whether juxtaposing the children chant “La Virgen de la Cueva” with the brutal family detachment that comes with aging in “Que Llueva,” or commenting on the wounded logic of incarceration in “Malherido” (those beast anguished groans are still bone-chilling), Molina’s uncanny sensitivity is the rumination of our daily appointments with existential terror. Her latest record, Wed 21, makes emotional devastation sound monstrously beautiful, in a deceptively simple manner. Conceptually and aesthetically, it’s one of Juana’s boldest provocations, and it’s far from being a shortcut to aural ecstasy.
Wed 21 starts off with a menacing, punch-to-the-face sequence. The euphoric awe of the intro in “Eras” is threatening, but the soundscape turns affectionately recognizable once Molina’s vocals rapture from the dark. We know it’s her creation from the very start, but it’s not until we hear her voice that we let down our guard. Unlike most of Juana Molina’s singles, “Eras” discards any calmness and opts to gut and challenge any pop-cultural codings (look at how violently that lovely "1-2-3-4-5-6-7" chorus is devoured by a seemingly demonic howl). And that’s just the start of what’s Molina’s most robust album to date. Throughout the record we find an artist who is compassionate to the medium, but who dares to be abrupt and compulsive for the greater service of emotional unease.
There’s a metaphorical pull in Wed 21 that stops it from being read as a mere brainteaser. Molina fills the space with sound. A whole lot of sounds in fact. When deconstructed, the swarming conditions come off as inner wars of spiritual proportions. Vocal harmonies serve as rituals, while the assembly of digital and analog instruments takes charge of the struggle and negotiation. It’s not as easy to articulate about most of Wed 21 though. The sonic collisions and deviating wavelength (especially in the album’s middle section) really leave the critic with the job of describing the indescribable. There are moments in trippy tracks like “Ay, No Se Ofendan” and “La Rata” that make it seem like she’s lost her mental bearings. The industrial qualities in the album are bound to alienate a crowd, but there’s a sense of grandiose atonement for those brave enough to evolve with the madness.
Simultaneously harmonious and dissonant, Wed 21 evolves into something profound. The sequence of a squeaky door opening and closing “El Oso de la Guarda” shows the centering and de-centering of social decay in the space. Nothing is as horrific as silence. Molina’s talent at terrorizing the soundscape (through abrupt noise) and then violently removing her own creation (by inserting silence) shows she has achieved an apex of melodic dexterity and grandeur. Darkness outweighs the light in Juana’s world. It’s an oddball way of appreciating the world, but it’s that imbalance in the communion that makes the experience so disquieting, and why we keep coming back for more. Wed 21 shows little signs of reconciling her creator’s looming present with her comedic past (although the closing track “Final Feliz” is a lovely, scornful wink to her attentive audience). It’s a turmoil of an album—assaulting and frightening—and one of Molina’s most accomplished vehicles for letting out some steam.