Juana Molina: Halo

Juana Molina: Halo

Perhaps Molina’s only true peer is fellow music wizard Scott Walker.

Juana Molina: Halo

4 / 5

Juana Molina got her start on sketch comedy television, so it makes sense that visuals play a large roll in her music. But her album covers and music videos aren’t the laugh-tracked images of any American show, nor do they hold a passing resemblance to her work in Argentina. Instead, we get the surreal visions of her eyes superimposed on a femur, a three-eyed creature peering from behind a blue mask, a blackened forest, charred by some unspeakable event. And despite all these horrors, they are evenly matched by the madness of her music.

Perhaps Molina’s only true peer is fellow music wizard Scott Walker. Both found early success through mainstream mediums, with Walker’s first pieces topping the pop charts with The Walker Brothers and Molina becoming Argentina’s most famous comedian in the ’90s. But both reinvented themselves, diving into the hinterlands of utterly alien music. Molina has less meat percussion on her albums, but make no mistake, this is some of the most unnerving music to come out of any part of the world in recent memory.

Her last album Wed 21 was a baffling collection of folktronica, but it had a few songs that could be classified as accessible or pop. Halo doesn’t even have pretensions of easy listening. In fact, this is distinctly uneasy listening. Molina has an exception knack for making her music feel woozy through simple rhythmic tricks. Many of the songs here meander from their base BPM or even time signature, creating a sensation of seasickness. This is not for the faint of heart.

But those craving a more experimental album will find something as delicious as it is spooky. Wed 21 had some bangers on it, while Halo leans toward slow-motion terror. Through her own voice and effects pedals, Molina stretches her notes into the abyss and back. The guitars and keyboards barely sound like musical instruments for much of the album, instead resembling the mournful singing of blue whales or frying electronics. The pseudo-title track “Lentisimo Halo” sounds like an extended version of Radiohead’s “Hunting Bears,” which was already a completely haunting song. In Molina’s hands it’s something akin to the opening moments of a Resident Evil game in sonic form, gloom and foreboding becoming as ever present as oxygen. Following track, “In the Lassa” seems to be a nod to fellow creepfest Tobacco. Molina lays down decaying electronic percussion, filled with dying static. That’s all beneath briefly coherent guitars that fritz out while Molina sings nonsense. There are few times that “doo doot doo” and “la la” as lyrical choices can be horrifying and this is one of them.

The second half of the album runs more traditionally, on the surface at least. Molina’s voice is slightly less warped, the percussion doesn’t feel like it will fade into the ether and the guitars play riffs of sorts. But Molina makes it the uncanny valley of pop music, a deeply off putting façade of normality that reveals itself to be knottier than ever expected. “Los pies helados” starts as the album’s most conventional song, but eventually blossoms into unease with spiraling flutes appearing like ghosts. “Cara de espejo” runs a similar ruse, allowing the driving beat to flow natural until the halfway point where Molina’s voice is looped and warped until a handful of Molina’s are wailing from every angle. It would be a nasty delight to flip on any of these songs at a hipster baiting party and see how long it takes before peoples’ eyes start twitching involuntarily.

And if subtlety isn’t what you’re looking for, there’s just straightforward weirdness a plenty. “A00 B01” sounds like the beat to Pusha-T’s “Lunch Money” run through a possessed Commodore 64. It would take a brave rapper to take that beat on, but Molina nearly settles into a flow rather than her usual mewling and pulls it off with bravado. The techno freakout of “Ando” even shows an appreciation for Autechre; it’s a varied oddness that Molina plays with.

Molina leaves a few of these songs without lyrics, but the images she does bring only add to the frightful mood. The title refers to a malevolent light that hangs over buried bones, bringing a sense of witchcraft to the front. What sort of malformed trees could she be describing over music like this? What ill-fated moon hangs above this world? But like any good master of horror, Molina just gives us enough hints for us to paint our own portraits of terror. All she needs to provide are a few clues and one collection of spine-chilling music.

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