Flamenco singing -- the real stuff, not the pop-ified version -- is often raw to the point of discomfort. This astonishing debut from a 23-year-old from Barcelona, on the other hand, manages to retain the music's primal emotion while sounding startlingly vital and accessible. Perhaps surprisingly, considering that Rosalía owes her growing reputation to collaborations with artists from other genres, including hip-hop and trap, Los Ángeles is a dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist flamenco album. As is customary for flamenco singers trying to make their name, Rosalía makes sure to demonstrate her mastery of all the different strands (or palos) of flamenco, such as alegrías, fandangos, tangos, tarantas, and malagueñas, among others. Despite this variety, Los Ángeles was ostensibly designed as a single piece with granite-like production consistency and arrangements as downright austere as the music is deadly serious. Death indeed hovers over almost every single lyric -- most culled from oral tradition or popular folk songs: Loss, murder, domestic abuse, exile, revenge, and suicide.
More than just a solo album by Rosalía, however, Los Ángeles is a collaborative effort between the singer and maverick producer/guitarist Raül Refree, who has worked with Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo. While taking flamenco recordings and singers from the early 20th century as their points of departure, Rosalía and Refree also sound inspired by Johnny Cash and Rick Rubin's American Recordings series, a connection highlighted by the album's closer, a breathtakingly beautiful version of Will Oldham's "I See a Darkness" (also covered by Cash). In both attitude and sound, Los Ángeles could be considered flamenco with a D.I.Y.-post-punk ethos, something that can also be applied to Cash's American Recordings and Will Oldham's early Palace work. It certainly sounds just as revelatory. Of course, none of the above would make much of an impression in merely competent hands. As admirable as it may be as an art project, Los Ángeles is all about Rosalía's voice. No two ways about it: She is exceptional. No familiarity with the genre is required; her instrument is a tornado capable of sweeping away any cultural or language barriers. Even more remarkably, she does not accomplish this with sheer volume or vocal histrionics, but by reaching almost unbearable levels of intensity and expression. Universally hailed in Spain as one of 2017's best albums, Los Ángeles is a stellar debut that signals the appearance of a major talent in both the flamenco and the world music scene.