Warner Music, Mexico
by Sam Rodgers
2008 was an interesting year for pop music - six years ago, some of the now biggest names in music were still emerging or being scrutinized for longevity (Adele, Rihanna, Katy Perry, Kanye, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, to name a few). We were also seeing a dismantling of genre, for every Kings of Leon in "rock", there was a Bon Iver; El Guincho was being fawned over by Pitchfork, and Calle 13 spawned a track called "Electro Movimiento." In the "alternative" corner strange (MGMT, Juana Molina) and whimsical (Fleet Foxes, M83, Vampire Weekend) things were happening, better melodies were being written, now every layman was starting to get their head around this new-fangled website called YouTube (2 years old) and the mainstream would soon spend time with unknown music if the visuals were eye-catching enough (OK, Go's "Here It Goes Again" was early in 2009).
The year 2008 could be seen as the year obscurity started finding that spotlight quicker (five years later there'd be Lorde), and a year where there was plenty of space on the charts for female pop artists to fill (Taylor Swift was still playing country gal, and "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It") came out just as the year ended). It was also the year Ximena Sariñana released Mediocre, a Grammy-nominated debut that seemed eager to showcase all the genres jostling for pop's crown at the time, from Alicia Key piano-smashing balladry (best tracks "Normal" and "Mediocre") to Natasha Bedingfield sunniness ("La Tina", "Vidas Paralelas"), all anchored by a signature voice not shy of jazz licks, and "old soul" lyric writing. Six years later, Sariñana has released her second LP in Spanish (after a valiant English-language release three years ago), and the pop landscape has changed yet again. Where does it fit?
With time, what worked best on Mediocre was Sariñana's knack for a biting lyric and memorable melody set to the moodier compositions. Here she seemed more genuine: whether it's because of the naturally dour timbre of her voice, or the slightly jarring nature of genre-hopping, it's unclear - but Sariñana could've been doing Daria-chic years before a certain New Zealander claimed it. Pop audiences can be unforgiving if an artist doesn't encapsulate an archetype, so it goes that her quest to be three-dimensional may have been Sariñana's undoing in the strictly pop world.
No Todo Lo Puedes Dar is Sariñana's most personal offering - there's definitely a more mature, experienced element to the lyrics, rather than the 'Life, In General, Can Suck It' grandiosity of youth - and Sariñana reports she produced 70 per cent of the album, steering it with more confidence, and presumably towards a more consistent sound. The first single, "Sin Ti No Puede Estar Tan Mal", stomps around the bedroom in cherry Doc Martens more than it skips, and the strangled self-confidence of the lyric reveals a self-aware petulance of those who've recently lost the beginnings of something. There's a (perhaps annoying) parallel with Taylor Swift's recent "Blank Space" in its tone, but the track is by no means a snapshot of the rest of the album.
The stormy piano ballads are here (title track and "Un Amor / En Medio de la Noche"), but with "Ruptura" and album closer "Cuidado Conmigo," Sariñana builds the songs until she's kicking back the piano stool and electric guitars and an orchestra are revealed behind the curtain - they are unforgiving battle cries, the latter a stand out track for its wall of noise (and credits to Álex Ferreira). Sariñana has been hurt, and the sombre tone imbues the whole album. Even when the opening of a track ("No Voy a Decir Que No") bounces along, Sariñana shifts gears in the bridge, using punchy minor key changes to remind the listener she's got a few more words to say on this wrongdoing. On the more upbeat numbers, Sariñana winks at the listener, letting us know she knows that she's crafted "just another" break-up album, again striving for a three-dimensionality, or self-awareness that, while mostly forgivable (the aforementioned melodic "traps" she lays down for former paramours), at other times can come across as self-conscious (a laugh at the end of the brilliantly enigmatic "Parar a Tiempo" is puzzling). While there's heartache here, there's not much wallowing. Lines are being drawn, defiantly.
Sonically, there is a clearer theme of continuity helped by co-"composer," Juan Manuel Torreblanca, whose touches are felt throughout with experimental dramatics. There are moments of perfect sublimity throughout No Todo Lo Puedes Dar: for the majority of "Parar a Tiempo", which is reminiscent of Color the Small One-era Sia in its intimacy; the jazz break of "La Vida No Es Fácil," a song which is positively reminiscent of a Lafourcade-filtered Lara track. There's enough grit, angst, and surprises on this album to keep it from Adult Contemporary land, which, one suspects, is not where Sariñana wants to end up (and seems where a label will want her). And this destination is the question only partially answered with No Todo Lo Puedes Dar. With her growly, un-angelic voice (in a good way), and undeniable songwriting talent, what boundary does Sariñana want to push next? One can't help but wonder - especially on the more volcanic outbursts on this album - that Sariñana will benefit most from letting shit fly, using her obviously sophisticated tastes to ground rather than influence a less hemmed-in version of herself. Here she's toeing the line between likeable pop and a dirtier alternative, how she refines this will be another step closer to owning a sound that's purely Sariñana-esque.