Few artists can successfully include on their album the sound of dogs barking. In fact, aside from the members of Pink Floyd, who pulled it off with their 1971 Live At Pompeii performance, Argentina’s Juana Molina may be the only one. Having made the switch from acting (she’s best known in her native country for her comedic television performances) to music, Molina has released four albums in America, the latest of which, Son, is unafraid to include such elements into its incredibly rich palette of aural imagery. It’s just one reason Son is evidence that Molina is one of the most progressive and intriguing voices in music today.
Don’t let the idea of dog sounds put you off. After all, everything surrounding Molina’s voice is mere furniture. There’s something distinctly powerful about her vocals: They’re ambient without sounding distant, Argentinean without sounding foreign and, most important, always warm and inviting. Her sound could be classified as ambient folk or ambient pop, but perhaps the best way to describe Son is folk-ambient, because the ambience of this album is more important than its folkiness. The most important element of the music is the way its sound envelopes you, accomplishing what Eno set out to do with Music for Airports: create a sonic landscape. I can’t help but be sucked into Molina’s world with tracks such as “Un Beso Ilega” or “Micael,” with their specific intent to create their own environment.
Son isn’t dramatically different from her previous material, but an evolution is present. (She isn’t like AC/DC, a band that kept releasing nearly the same album for a good twenty years.) Although she still uses delay processing and other electronic effects that showed up on Segundo (2003) and Tres Cosas (2004), the album has a more prominent acoustic or (dare I say?) organic sound, recalling her 1996 debut, Rara. In terms of songwriting, confidence, and overall production, this is a better album than Segundo, her first release for Domino, or even her remix EP from last year, Salvese Quien Pueda. The clank of the tin drums on “Micael” or the slightly detuned tones near the end of “Rio Seco” are evidence of such growth. (The LP version of Son features an excellent bonus track, “Ahora No.”)
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Son among year-end top-album lists — and not just my own. As always, Molina’s arrangements are placed in a delicate, Zen-like fashion: sequences of subtle IDM loops flirt with our ears in the background while new sounds calmly and casually enter the foray. This music is made of the highest quality sonic silk, and the songs are gentle yet fiery, with haunting melodies, passionate delivery, and — let’s not forget — the occasional barking dog. Folk-ambient doesn’t get any better than this.