Year of release: 2017
Juana Molina's seventh album, Halo, is defined by mood over melody. That's not to say the Argentine singer-songwriter, whose been making electronic-tinged folk music since the mid-1990s, doesn't know how to write a catchy hook. To the contrary, on albums like 2004's Tres Cosas and especially 2008's Un Dia, Molina crafted some of the most sublimely skeletal pop music this side of the globe. However, her interest in ambient song structures, digital loops, and drone-inflected atmosphere has always been a defining element of her sound rather than a supplement. Molina's whispered mantras (sung in Spanish) are placed alongside instrumental loops, airy synthesizers, and fractured percussion with brilliant restraint throughout Halo, which just may be her most cogent work to date.
This idea of mood over traditional song structure isn't Molina's way of resisting the familiarity of pop music, but rather, of deepening the layers of her songwriting to the point where one feels as if they are meeting her on her own terms. Often, she simply loops her voice in a series of rhythmic sequences where actual lyrics are rendered unnecessary, such as on “In the Lassa,” “A00 B01,” and “Andó”, which formulate a trifecta of gorgeous ambiance. Meanwhile, Halo's album cover--of eyes encased in some kind of drooping plaster mold against a black backdrop--is indicative of the mysterious pull of the music. On a song like "Cosoco", for example, Molina uses acoustic finger-plucked guitar, warbly keyboards, skittering drums, and her hushed vocals in order to lull us into a trance-like state. This sense of finding tranquility through the melding of organic sounds with modern technology is so seamlessly integrated throughout that it's a miracle the album doesn't completely wash away. Instead, there's a propulsive quality to Halo that, despite it's minimalist framework, gives Molina's off-kilter tunes a lingering impact.