Chika Entertainment, Chile
by Carlos Reyes
“Nicole featured on Club Fonograma? Now, that’s something I’d love to see.” That was the reaction from renowned producer Cristian Heyne when we approached him about opening our midyear compilation with Nicole’s blissful and pitch-perfect single “Baila.” His surprise makes sense. The Chilean singer has experienced everything there is to encounter on the path to pop stardom. Her journey has been more interesting than most: she had a gold album at age 12, reached multi-platinum status by her second album, achieved legitimacy with her Gustavo Cerati-produced third album, and got signed by Madonna’s label, Maverick, for the next one. What’s left for Nicole to experience? The hipsters.
Although highly recognized and admired, Panal is Nicole’s first introduction to music’s newfound consumer hierarchy. Not to say the music industry is fully dependent of hipsters, but when it comes to endorsement and relevancy, tastemakers and music geeks have climbed way higher up the ladder than the last time Nicole was around. She couldn’t have found a better guide and associate for this new landscape than the man who has triggered the sensibility of a generation: Cristian Heyne. Departed from the major-league labels that surrounded her renowned, yet inconsistent, discography, she’s back in the game with her best work in over a decade. Just like that lovely, back-in-the-womb music video for “Baila” suggested, Panal is Nicole’s gleaming renaissance.
“Baila” starts with an alarming clicking sequence that announces something colossal ahead. Nicole’s voice comes to the rise neutralizing the menace of the intro and pouring sentiment to a childhood memory of her floating and dancing in the air. And just when the song seemed to have turned into a lullaby that deviated from the established menace of its intro, the track suddenly escalates into a louder, bolder, and more stirring track than anyone could’ve anticipated. Heyne’s attentive theories of pop music as something round and approachable work exceptionally well alongside Nicole’s low-registered vocals and clear-minded composition. This time around, the producer isn’t competing or negotiating with conceptual forms. If there ever was a time when Heyne made his presence be known, this is it.
Needless is to say that Panal sounds truly pristine. Yet the album is a little more than what it appears to be. Beyond the splendorous spectacle lies an album that’s truly contextual in both its literal and figurative ambitions. This is most visible in the album’s sequencing. The way the synth-euphoric “Nuestro Tiempo” is juxtaposed with the bare-to-the-bone analog beauty of “Columna Vertebral” says a lot about an artist whose straightforwardness affords her the luxury of showing great amounts of versatility. Perhaps the most important moment of the album (at least for the sake of this review) arrives with the sky-scraping “Color.” Nicole and Heyne seemed to have been aware of the hipsters all along, and so they tailored this track with a towering chorus rapture that rubs elbows with the very best of Charli XCX and Icona Pop. Nicole recently celebrated her first 20 years in entertainment. Whether Panal will constitute a new parting point for Nicole remains to be seen, but in the meantime, it seems like she’ll be more than fine with any future urban tribes threatening to gain control over the zeitgeist.