Javiera Mena - Otra Era

Otra Era, Javiera Mena
Unión del Sur, Chile
Rating: 92
by Andrew Casillas 

How do you follow-up your masterpiece? The common theory is that great artists deliberately evade the sounds of their great works in the name of aural evolution (think of Café Tacuba chasing Reves/Yosoy with Cuatro Caminos, or every album the Beatles made from 1965 to 1969). Students of history, however, will see the past sixty years of popular music as deviations on a common theme. Except in very rare cases (say, Radiohead following up OK Computer with Kid A), the rock era celebrates artists that formulate an unimpeachable template and harvest that sound to diminishing returns. This is why the Rolling Stones are celebrated for their perseverance; Prince for his idiosyncrasies; Spoon for their Spoon-ness. This is the route to immortality.

Javiera Mena has certainly established a distinctive sound, which is impressive considering the cumulative length of her output is shorter than Goodfellas. In essence: Casio keys, electric drums, sound effects, bass-centric melodies, simple and direct lyrics; again, deviations on a common theme. What made her first two albums (not to mention Prissa’s Ni Tu Ni Yo, her collaboration album with Francisca Villela), so compelling was its infectious nature—big beats giving way to big choruses giving way to big emotions. Her first solo single, “Al Siguiente Nivel,” was a mission statement of her musical ambitions. And it just happened to be a perfect pop song. For 2010’s Mena, Javiera diversified her sound, adding gloss and intricacy to her arrangements, resulting in one of the seminal pop albums of this century.

So one more time: how do you follow-up your masterpiece? For her new album, Otra Era, Javiera Mena chooses to ride the formula to its purest version. Otra Era is the sensational dance-pop classic in the vein of Kylie Minogue’s Fever and the Pet Shops Boys’ Very, combining the giddy bombast of the former with the pulsating Euro-dance rhythms of the latter. Indeed, this is the first Javiera Mena album to reject disco as a foundation. Instead, Javiera reconfigures her sound to fixate on either house music rhythms or frenetic dance-pop. The result is a bouncy, confident beast of a record, and the most uniform-sounding Javiera Mena album to date, with grooves and hooks creeping at every turn.

Much of Otra Era’s pre-release buzz centered about Javiera recording in Miami, aiming to create her “pop album,” as if Paulino Rubio needed to watch her seat on La Voz Kids. While Otra Era is certainly unabashedly pop, it’s not packed full of saccharine, in part because of Cristian Heyne’s production. Javiera’s right hand man across each album, Heyne operates almost like another vocalist, with tempo changes and well-placed percussion lifting ostensibly generic-pop beats into punch-drunk bangers.

And the bangers come as quickly as you can hit play. Opener “Los Olores De Tu Alma” pulsates like a jetliner at takeoff. A pounding backbeat thumps away as Javiera pushes her vocals in a fit of exasperated lust. Then the chorus hits, and the vocals stretch the words “como todo el sonido” into yearning, the beat breaks away into a swirling keyboard cacophony. It’s a dynamite section of music, and perhaps the most aggressive section she’s recorded since the breakdown on Esquemas Juveniles’ “Cuando Hablamos.”

Aggression is certainly the best word to describe Otra Era in relation to Esquemas Juveniles and Mena. In fact, the album’s strength lies in the teeth imbued within the production. Take “Esa Fuerza” for example. The song rides along on high synth notes for two minutes, sounding like a simple dance number reminiscent of Kylie’s “Love at First Sight.” Then, two minutes in, the middle eight hits, and the vocals chant “la unica que ser” until dissolving into a sweaty keyboard breakdown continuing throughout the remainder of the track, a key tempo change that effectively changes it into a different (and better) song. For all its charms, however, “Esa Fuerza” is not the strongest song of the record.

Instead, the three-song combo opening side two are the true showcase for Otra Era’s sonic attack. In single “La Joya,” which still sounds like it’ll be running your summers ten years from now, the exuberant “Que Me Tome la Noche,” and the perfectly titled “La Carretera,” Mena and Heyne have three numbers that allow them to operate on all cylinders. “La Joya” allows the pair to indulge headfirst in 80s nostalgia, sounding like the unintended mix of Lisa Lisa and Madonna you could have sworn already existed. This is before (again) hitting the accelerator at the bridge, tearing the fucking lid off the song and letting the keys ride it into another dimension. “Que Me Tome la Noche” is freestyle on steroids, lifting those keyboards Britney Spears used on “Til the World Ends” that sounded like fire from the sky (or foam falling on the dance floor, I can’t really tell). And “La Carretera” is a 90 mph slice of brash beachside firework pop, launching hooks the way 30 Rock launched jokes. Javiera Mena always held a debt to Gloria Estefan (see "Luz de Piedra de Luna") and this track pays it back by riding the Miami Sound Machine (with a tint of Capullo) into the goddamn ocean.

Of course, this is still a Javiera Mena album, meaning it must be judged according to its slow jamz. And while “Pide” and “Quedate un Ratito Mas” are tender, sometimes blissful songs, the heart of this album is its title track. As a standalone single “Otra Era” was charming and lovely, but as heard within the parent album it is as gorgeous as Javiera Mena has ever sounded. Atypical of the rest of the album, “Otra Era” revels in minimalism and is built solely on an array of keys and basic drum effects. The ethereal “Fool on the Hill”-like melody sustains the track, but it’s Javiera’s lyrics and cadence that grounds the song. Long derided (and sometimes rightly) for writing overly naïve lyrics, “Otra Era” doubles-down on the mantras. Here, however, the music acts as an emotional reinforcement. Note how, after a dizzying array of stadium synths, the final chorus shuts down so Javiera Mena can address the audience (“Piensa en mi como soy / Piensa lejos de mí”). Then, in the turn of an eye: madness; synthesizers exploding at every turn; “llévame a otra era.” It’s the type of dance song you would prefer to listen to sitting down and holding hands.

Making a fun dance-pop album is not hard so long as you remember that people want to dance. But making a great dance-pop album requires the artist to have the confidence to establish an identity and not cater to the lowest common denominator. Otra Era is a great album, genre be damned, because Javiera Mena knows what she is and what how to package her sound. This is why “Espada,” almost a year after its release, still sounds urgently brazen and satisfying far after it’s debut. Javiera’s artistic maturity has allowed her to tinker with her formula like an aural wizard—knowing when to let hooks sink and when to unleash her bag of tricks. Now, let’s make this clear: Otra Era is not the equal of Mena. But very few albums are. And even after the inevitable nitpicking, Otra Era still sounds like a modern classic from one of the classic artists of this generation. One that is clearly on the road to immortality.

Video: Dënver - "Profundidad de Campo"

You'd think by now Dënver would've given "Torneo Local" (the catchiest track in Fuera de Campo) the single treatment, but they've bravely chosen for the wonderfully nuanced and string-syncopated beauty of "Profundidad de Campo." After winning the prize for Music Video of the Year at FESAALP (Festival de Cine Latinoamericano de la Plata), as well as topping our own list with "Revista de Gimnasia," Bernardo Quesney is once again in charge of the frame. Recruiting Chilean actor Eugenio Morales once again as a TV host and dance music choreographer, Quesney plays with the analog signal nostalgia of variety shows (sacrificing the comfort of widescreen and adjusting the ratio of the frame to fit the era). With a bold sign on the background that reads "Tocando las estrellas!," this has to be Dënver's most extroverted clip yet. Mariana is rocking a pink wig, while Milton owns the new look. Both teasing the camera in a tongue-in-cheek manner and showing off their quirky moves. Our favorite duo has sure come a long way since appearing as kidnapped victims on the trunk of a car in that unforgettable breakthrough clip of "Lo Que Quieras."

Video: Los Punsetes - Me gusta que me pegues

While CANADA's style has remained a popular reference point for countless indie videos (and indie video dissections), their latest work for Los Punsetes combines a familiar aesthetic with an even more exaggerated commercial and pop motif. What I'm getting at is that this is kind of Kyary-esque. Anyone who has followed Kyary Pamyu Pamyu's videography over the years should instantly recognize certain visual elements of marrying cute with creepy. “Me gusta que me pegues” might not strictly adhere to Kyary's dogma (what does?), but it still gets there. Consider the scene in which singer Ariadna, dressed in a gold lamé sweater, delivers a knockout roundhouse kick, or how her victim (a pretty freaking creepy piñata man) tumbles down as gracefully as it occurs only in anime. Don't even get me started on the performance shots with candy graphics swirling inside the band. This kawaii masochism is soundtracked by a brazen and addicting single that charges through like a fuse, you can't blink because it goes out that quickly. It's the first taste of LPIV (out November 4th on CANADA Editorial), which also reunites Los Punsetes with Pablo Díaz-Reixa (El Guincho) as producer.

Javiera Mena - "Otra era"

So, it's finally happening. The full details of Javiera Mena's new album are out and Otra Era is due to arrive in a mere two weeks. Our written track record on her recent material might reflect some closeted skepticism, yet in spite of our weak faith, we have been rewarded with a third single. "Otra era," by far the most transcendent and memorable moment of the new album cycle, succeeds where "Espada" and "La Joya" did not. There are no vocal leaps that test the ear palate, no messy structures that overindulge in dance rhythms. Javiera sounds wistful and enlightened: a rare pop wisdom now on full display.

The synth grooves on "Otra era" sound foggy, the house pianos muted. One can feel a distance between the beats, which easily affect the body, but cannot reach the afflicted mind. Not when it's busy contemplating such a mesmerizing and haunting beauty ("¿Acaso no eres de acá?"). Javiera pulls on every resource she can: on history and the impact of great empires, on the metaphysical and platonic ideals. When no lasting conclusions can be reached, she finally surpasses the limitations of language: those altered pitch shifts come in and signal a complete reset. Only through rebirth can she acquire what she really wants, ("contigo llévame a una nueva, nueva, era, era, era...").