Juana Molina

Halo

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From the album cover of Juana Molina's seventh album, Halo, a bone bearing two human eyes stares shrewdly out at the viewer. It's an image as comical as it is unnerving, though not entirely unexpected from the inventive Argentinian singer/songwriter, who for two decades has danced nimbly around the boundaries of experimental pop, art, and design. Since abandoning her successful career as a comedic television actress in the mid-'90s, Molina has served up a constantly evolving pastiche of maverick sound that usually includes erratic beats, glowing electronics, fractured guitar loops, and all manner of treated vocals. What has kept her outsider music consistently appealing is the whimsy and melodic warmth that imbue her catalog with an underlying sense of humanity. Halo, Molina's first release since 2013's Wed 21, feels like a logical snapshot of her ongoing journey, presenting 12 new tracks that are as eccentric as they are inviting. From the woozy strings poured gently atop the dark digital grooves of "Paraguaya" to the fractured Latin guitar riff that carries lead single "Cosoco," the instrumentation is subtly layered and the production pleasantly disorienting in what has become her signature style. On the wonderful "Sin Dones," a neat bass groove develops slowly under Molina's effected vocals for three minutes before finally breaking into a seductive drum pattern that utterly transforms the song. Many of the tracks are built this way, taking their time to unfold, sometimes reaching their destination and sometimes just out for a stroll. On "Cálculos y Oráculos," one of Halo's most understated tracks, hazy muted synths warble around a sweet two-chord refrain that seems to be constructed out of the windy tone made from blowing on a bottle top. It's an enchanting mix that falls at the center of the album's sequence like an interlude. Training an audience to expect the unexpected is a tough trick, but after two decades, Molina's reputation as a bold sonic explorer is well established.

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