Juana_Molina_01_by_Marcelo_Setton_artistWith her fifth album, “Un Día,” the Argentine singer-composer Juana Molina refined further a wholly original form of contemporary music for which no spot-on descriptive term has been found.  Its blend of ambient, electronic, experimental, folk and pop music has been called folktronica, which doesn’t quite do.  With its hypnotic interlocking instrumental and vocal loops, it’s been compared to trance music, which isn’t quite right either.  But taken together, those attempts at definition come close to giving a sense of what Juana Molina’s music sounded like on “Un Día,” – and how distinctive was when it was released in 2008.

“Un Día” was a dance of voices and acoustic instruments recast as if tossed into the wind.  In the title track, which opened the album, Molina introduced the top line above a whirligig of overdubbed voices, piano, clanking percussion and, as the dizzying song progressed, a horn section.  The impression was of a roomful of musicians, overcrowded perhaps, but bursting with joy and expression.  “Vive Solo” entered with a gently strummed guitar and Molina’s voice in the distance; soon clacking percussion joined in as the singer layered her voices in shifting harmonies and patterns.   If the careening music was difficult at first to take in as a whole, following one of its streams unlocked its mysteries:  by abandoning for a moment Molina’s voice to follow a guitar and a drum permitted the listeners to feel the connections among the seemingly independent sounds.

In “Lo Dejamos,” Molina kept it relatively simple:  voice and metallic percussion; a brief, almost silent interlude; and, with the arrival as a new melody, guitars played brief parts before surrendering to different styles – one sounded like a West African kora, another offered rubbery bass lines.  “Los Hongros De Marosa” opened if it were an Argentine version of a loping country-and-western ballad, albeit with overdubbed voices and hand drums.  Despite changes in the playful environment, it was the rare number on “Un Día” that seemed to move in one direction – forward, with insistence.

The daughter of an actress and a tango vocalist, Juana Molina first gained notice in her home country as an comedic actress who rose in stature, eventually starring in her own TV show.  Though popular and successful, Molina surprised her fans by withdrawing from acting to make music, which was her first passion:  She began playing at age five; and when he family fled to Paris during the military coup that deposed Isabel Perón, the president of Argentina, she was exposed to many streams of world music.  Her debut album, “Rara,” was produced by Gustavo Santaolalla, who would go on to win two Oscars for Best Original Score, was not well received when it was released in 1996.  She moved to Los Angeles where her interest in electronic music was piqued.   Her second album, “Segundo,” revealed her taste for loops to augment and enhance traditional folk sounds.  Musicians took notice.

With “Un Día,” Molina pushed her concept toward an extreme, adding electronic drones that were her interpretation of the underpinning of the Indian music she heard while living in France.  In some songs, she discarded lyrics to scat sing.  But she didn’t abandon traditional touchstones.   The suite “¿Quien?” began with a plucked, syncopated nylon-stringed guitar over which Molina sang, chanted and let her voice roam free.  She used a similar technique in “No Llama,” a lovely, airy ballad that for a while turned more assertive as synthesizers whirred and the guitars soloed over driving drums.   “Dar (Qué Difícil)” was a slice of sexy funk with a deep groove and accents by chiming percussion.  It brought the recording to a satisfying close.

Rich with wit and adventure, “Un Día” introduced Juana Molina to a broader audience open to experimental music.  Playing acoustic guitar and singing while surrounded by electronic loops, Molina toured at length behind the disk, including gigs in North America with Feist.  In 2013, she released “Wed 21,” which featured her electric guitar and pedals, and performed with her band at the massive Glastonbury festival.   With “Un Día,” she established a delightful new form of contemporary music, even if it doesn't yet have a name.