Carla Morrison - Mientras tú dormías

Mientras tú dormías, Carla Morrison
Cosmica Records, México
Rating: 90 ★★★★1/2
by Juan Manuel Torreblanca

Have you ever closed your eyes and, instead of pure darkness, found luminous clouds of color? Or unexpected geometric shapes? Has it ever happened to you that a scent in the air takes you back to how someone’s skin used to feel, or how the sun felt on yours that distant summer you first fell in love? Or… is there some secret comfort treat (say, perhaps, chocolate milk) that you always give yourself when you really need to remember how it felt to be safe and loved (like you were when you were your mother’s child)? And so now, that’s all you need, a bit of chocolate milk, to feel better. This strange quality I’m trying to describe here could be understood partly through the phenomenon of synesthesia. But what I’m aiming at, it’s bigger, more mysterious and deeper than that. It goes beyond the five senses and straight to the heart and soul. And somehow Carla Morrison’s music gets it. And gets to me that way.

There’s something perfect about this record. Something terribly familiar without this meaning it’s neither fresh nor original. ‘Cause it is, and boy, how, how powerfully fresh it is! It’s just that (I think) the world is about to listen/see/feel the birth of a new classic. And classics always feel like home. Carla’s voice is spectacular, heavenly, clean, sweet, lovely and electric. But maybe we knew that already. And her knack for crafting round, clever, unpretentious and unabashedly emotional and sincere songs doesn’t come as a surprise either. Yet here it’s just more mature, more acute, more polished… and deeper.

I’m reaching the point where I have to talk about one of the main catalysts for this growth and brilliance. And this would be Natalia Lafourcade’s involvement in the production of this album. Natalia discovered Carla not long ago, through MySpace and various recommendations, and soon feel in love with her talent and her voice. She even invited her to be the opening act for the official presentation of HU HU HU (which has now been released as a CD & DVD too) and also invited Carla to sing with her onstage then, and a couple of other times later. So it happened naturally that Natalia decided she wanted her first real attempt at producing someone else’s music to be this, working with sweet Carla. Carla was thrilled with the idea and they got at it right away. Carla traveled down from Tecate to Mexico City to lock herself twice at Natalia’s home studio where they recorded almost everything assisted by Neto García’s intuitive engineering and opinion (he also mixed it afterwards). Concerning this Carla has told me that the experience was especially delightful because Natalia was a very respectful producer and always told her “this is your record and you decide what goes and what doesn’t”, Morrison also told me this: “Natalia is a genius and I believe that we made a good team together, but she definitely gave so much, so much!”

One can definitely hear Natalia’s touch here, in the huge atmospheres, the desert percussion, the velvety wide spaces, and some of the echoing answers that woodwind instruments and trumpets give to Carla’s melodies. And they both share their love for the nostalgic 50s & 60s doo wop style arrangements. However I want to say it out loud: those who say Carla sounds like Natalia are seriously shortsighted. The difference is as clear to me as sunlight. And this collaboration only made it clearer to me. The first time I heard this recording I couldn’t help it, I had to close my eyes. And it happened: I saw both of them. It was almost like watching the aurora borealis, like watching the northern lights dancing. And they both had their own colors and shapes. I might be crazy, but it does happen to me. When music is truly magical, it makes me see things. "Pajarito del amor" is the perfect example; it’s the duet that just had to happen in this record. The simple acoustic guitar draws the ground for them to dance over perfectly, Carla’s voice appears and it’s like a caress to your hurting heart, and then Natalia’s voice steps in and you feel the space within you grow. Then Carla sings the chorus and Natalia hums around her voice, and it’s like watching twin water fountains dancing, like an embroidery of fireworks, but all subtle and intimate. So moving. It brings tears to my eyes.

I believe that Natalia’s presence in this recording only makes Carla shine brighter and show herself, her spirit in a way that’s purer and more beautiful than ever. That’s all it does. And this speaks tons to me about both artists. I understand better than ever the talent and reach of Carla. And I respect more than ever Natalia’s humble genius. Carla sees Mientras Tú Dormías as an EP but I see it as a short and complete album. Every song has a role to play. "Compartir," the first single, opens the album exposing Carla’s new sound in its entire splendor. It also exposes her passionate poetic contradictions that somehow click with our hearts and with the truth of being in love so well it’s scary.

Como es is surprising in its oxymoronic nature of being a cool f-you song. A song of love-gone-bad that depicts Carla as her (very Mexican) character of the despechada chanteuse. Jealousy and the treason of the ungrateful lover eventually empowers her as it allows her to understand that all the love she has to give is worth more than that. It opens her eyes: “tu acción fue mi bendición, ahora sí están abiertos mis ojos”. And I have to add that I have experienced Carla singing this one live a couple of times and it’s one of those that the crowd just loves to sing OUT LOUD! But, then again, I think that almost all of her songs make her fans go crazy that way! The trumpets near the end give it this drowsy mariachi air that ‘s just lovely.

"Suciedad" is a brokenhearted dark and moody dance of disappointment and frustration with all the dirt that at any given point we can find in ourselves, without the words or power to say them. The contrast of a shattered soul sung with such gorgeousness is one of Carla’s extraordinary strengths. The playful percussion echoes the sense of humour hidden in the lyrics: “me busco una solución, tequila o whisky, algo que me haga aunque sea balbucear”, you’ve got to love her. "Yo Sigo Aquí" is the powerhouse of the album. The first keyboard notes are recognizable Carla Morrison style, in their charming simplicity; but the drums that immediately rush in are unexpected, exciting, sexy and awesome! This could have been the second "Bestia" that many Hello Seahorse fans were expecting for their comeback but this is all Carla in her sweet heart-on-her-sleeve greatness, with a new epic reach that’s very, very welcome!

"Este momento" gives me a church choir feeling, I can almost picture Carla singing it with her guitar to a classroom full of kids, and it’s got this troubadour vibe that makes it perhaps the folksiest of the pack. Yet the wordplay exposes Carla’s deep philosophical and spiritual reflections (in her down-to-earth style) “abrazar al momento con los brazos abiertos, ahí es cuando estás realmente viviendo”. "Tu luz" walzes in as another meditation from a naked heart, but this time the vulnerability is so spiritual and poignant it brings shivers down my spine. The deep, deep bass plays so well against Carla’s voice, and when the piano solo comes in… I don’t know, faith comes back to me again! I believe that (despite the fall of the recording industry) we are truly and really being lifted to a new era of latin music. There’s hope.

"Una salida" bounces entirely on this Doo wop groove, but in such a minimalist arrangement that (honestly) when I first heard it I couldn’t stop myself from laughing! But don’t get me wrong, it is just so full of joy. I know that the lyrics are not happy. But there’s so much joy in the beauty and the melancholy of her craft that my ears and my body felt a shower of happiness upon listening to these songs, and… I just laughed, being tremendously moved. And "Pajarito del Amor" (the last song) I already talked about, but looking at it closer. We will always need songs that help us say “I’m sorry”, that help us say “I still love you”, and ultimately that help us bawl our eyes out when our hearts are full of rain. And this one bids us farewell (for now) just like that. It leaves us wanting more… and it leaves me certain that Carla Morrison has a long and fruitful career ahead of her. She is one of a kind. A true, blessed, star. We’re lucky to have her voice and songs.

And, if you will, let me just say one more thing, something really obvious, to help myself finish this: I had never heard these songs before the first time I did, and it was not long ago. And despite that, they made my heart feel so warm and full and joyous… just like that glass of chocolate milk my mom used to make for me when I was sad.