La Bien Querida - Fiesta

Fiesta, La Bien Querida
Elefant Records
Rating: 79
By Enrique Coyotzi

The short story of La Bien Querida (artistic name of Ana Fernández-Villalverde) in the indie pop landscape has been one of the most divisive in years among music lovers and certain publications. Her overhyped-yet-spectacular Romancero gained her international recognition, with an almost unanimous critical approval; she quickly picked the eye of Latin American press and became a darling among critics and colleagues (fellow compatriots Los Planetas invited her to guest in two songs of their last album Una Ópera Egipcia, while Julieta Venegas recluted her to open two of her shows in Mexico), earning prestigious recognitions like Best New Album and Revelation Artist awards at Spain’s Premios de la Música Independiente of 2010. Despite all this great success, La Bien Querida has managed to become a polarizing persona in the scene ever since, raising doubts about the value of her contribution into Spanish contemporary music field, creating a sort of love/hate relationship towards her between many listeners.

Almost three years later after she exploded into the pop scene, the songstress originally from Bilbao has returned with her sophomore effort Fiesta, arguably, a significant step-forward from her 2009 debut. Fernández-Villalverde could easily be cataloged as a singer-songwriter, and while her songwriter abilities have definitely improved, her skills as a singer remain pretty much the same. She also has focused on a more constructed embodiment of songs that almost work as a whole, as opposed to Romancero, which seems like three different sections (or EPs) joined to function as an album –it was effective but ultimately felt forced. For a record titled Fiesta, the celebration ironically is not to be found in its lyrics whose themes range from mournful loss, bitter remorse or profound loneliness. The real festivity comes with the sunny sound that inhabits most of the songs; this is La Bien Querida we’ve come to known and love, the flamenco influences haven’t gone anywhere, but as the Ku Klux Klan like character informs in the "Hoy" video, the styles that color this release are much more varied, making it a fan pleaser as well as an opportunity for detractors to give her music another chance.

Plenty of potential singles are found in Fiesta that could transform unbelievers: the irresistible rumba-flavored “Queridos Tamarindos”, Belle and Sebastian-esque twee pop oriented “La Muralla China” or the stunningly catchy “Me Quedo Por Aquí” (although the definite entry point is the spooky lead single “Hoy”). While all these mentioned tracks could appeal effectively to a mainstream audience, La Bien Querida prefers to keep her indie chanteuse profile intact. Although there are plenty of pleasing, unforgettable passages in the record, there are also some hard to swallow moments especially towards the ending with some of the slower songs; it’s nice having back “Monte de Piedad” from her much loved maqueta, but its appearance here is almost party-poopery. The same goes with “Monumentos en la Luna”, a misplaced ballad in an album that possesses better interesting offers.

If we were to put La Bien Querida's spectrum on a world stage, we would find her profile represented in other contemporary singers. There’s certain parallelism between M.I.A. and La Bien Querida’s releases story, at least up to their second record. Both artists generated Internet hype with the first taste of their then upcoming first albums (M.I.A. with Piracy Funds Terrorism Vol. 1, La Bien Querida with her maqueta), gained international acclaim with their debuts and dispelled myths about being frauds with their sophomores; and while Fiesta is not the groundbreaking monster that Kala was, it is the piece that has reaffirmed Ana Fernández-Villalverde as a committed artist who’s willing to explore multiple paths in her music, continuing with the revival of the romantic Spanish song in a unique kind of way.