What was the record that best captured that jittery feeling of dread, the combustible-at-any-moment menace of the Trump years?
For me it was Juana Molina’s 2017 Halo. By a longshot. A collection of hallucinogenic songs set at extreme tempos and lit up by extreme dissonances, the album offered a sonic corollary to the disquiet that spread worldwide after the 2016 U.S. election.
Halo is an ambitious staredown of demons, real and imagined. It catches the arrogant snarl that was then-rampant in the public discourse, then provides private mantras for self-soothing. It counters fear with hypnotic – and, crucially, genre-blind – rhythm. In the long sweeping history of popular music, there is nothing else like it.
Halo didn’t just happen out of nowhere. This week, its beginnings are being celebrated in now-typical record industry fashion, with a deluxe remastering: It was 21 years ago that Molina, coming off a successful run as a TV comic in Argentina, released her breakthrough Segundo.
The new version, which clarifies Segundo’s textural synthesizer squiggles and gives more “presence” to Molina’s vocals, makes a fascinating compare/contrast listening experience. It shows what she found at the beginning point of exploration, and how, over a run of albums since, she’s refined and expanded her creative process. As Molina writes in the accompanying booklet, “I feel that this was the seed of everything I have done ever since. I discovered the flair of composing in real time, the charm of discarding the very idea of demos, the grace of documenting these moments of searching and finding. Everything else became dispensable."
There’s plenty more to say about both of these visionary albums. Today’s playlist suggests a reverse-chronology approach: It starts with a taste of Halo, then three of the memorable tracks from Segundo. As great as they are, these five songs can only be considered an appetizer.
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