Juana Molina first came to renown as a comedian doing television skits in her native Argentina. Stylistic elements of her subsequent musical career have appropriately been compared to Bjork.
And yet the 48-year old Molina is not nearly as daft as all that — the opposite in fact. The Bjork citations stem from the intrepid sensibility and ethereal textures Molina’s music shares with the Icelandic naïf. But Molina substitutes playful cunning for Bjork’s infantile id.
Her songs simultaneous whir and stand still, with musical loops that spiral forth like an indolent helix. In some respects they remind me of the “Frippertronics” that Robert Fripp and Brian Eno fashioned in the 1970s. But there are also elements of the Brazilian tropicalia movement of the ’60s (a big reason why tropicalia aficionado, ex-Talking Head and chronic Eno collaborator David Byrne is such a big fan of Molina’s music), Cuban son, and modern electronica.
One of the more discerning and yet open-minded music critics, Jon Pareles of the New York Times, had a Molina disc (“Tres Cosas”) in his top 10 of the year as far back as 2004, but I think her best work is her latest release, “Un Dia,” from 2008. It’s got a little more thrust in the low end, and layered arrangements that come off as whimsical and impulsive until you realize that the connections have the split-second timing and derring-do of a trapeze act. Molina affects distinctive costumes (another overlap with Bjork) has a sense of humor that ranges from wry to slapdash, but, like Eno, the predominant takeaway you get from her music are cerebral soundscapes that take the toe-tapping up into your brain. In that sense, she’s the perfect act for the Walker Art Center, where she’ll play this Saturday.
Here is a great 99-second clip of Molina in performance from earlier this year that reveals how rich her minimalist approach can be.
Here she is in folk music mode, performing “El Zorzal” from her second album (aptly titled “Segundo”).
Here is the title track from “Un Dia,” which captures the maturity and energy of her later material.
And here http://www.myspace.com/juanamolina is her Myspace page.
Juana Molina at the Walker Art Center, Saturday, June 26, at 8 p.m.; tickets are $18 ($15 for Walker members).