Mena, Javiera Mena
Union del Sur, Chile
Rating: 100 ★★★★★
by Carlos Reyes
There are records destined to mark a generation, Javiera Mena’s Esquemas Juveniles did just that for us during the 00s, it’s the perfect pop record that found perpetual life as a consequence of its own grandiosity. It’s been four years since that masterpiece was released and we still can’t get enough of it. We still refer to it as the next Latin classic and we feel comfortable positioning it up there with Café Tacvba’s Re as a one-of-a-kind revolution. Esquemas Juveniles is our reference; it’s the landmark album that we’ll keep in our hearts as a generation-best, not to mention it is the one record that virtually killed the RockEnEspañol tag without too many people noticing. She has done it again, her new record Mena is not only the home of this year’s most exciting music, it will also provide us with anthems for years to come.
Mena’s copious gestures are self-defining, self-driven, and self-pleasing; this is where her skills come in handy, she loops our generation’s flashy, anti-preventive narrative through her own skin and pop-glam commemoration. When approaching Mena, one must understand this isn’t a pastiche of chamber pop songs crafted for revival purposes, yes, the songs sound retro, but only because they’re channeled through Javiera’s revisionist sensibilities. Mena is instead, a diaspora of nine songs that are pushed forward into a gravity sprawl of prisms and shooting stars. Javiera is a pupil of pop music’s endless corners, with influences that go from Daniela Romo to Karen Carpenter, flirting around the Cocteau Twins, Juan Gabriel, and of course, Italian 90s music. This isn’t electro-pop or sophisticated kitsch music, this is pop idiom at its finest.
Just listen to “Hasta La Verdad” and recognize the outlandish by which the song is driven, it’s as if harmony was given life through sparkling lights. It’s bleak and glossy, sexy and stylish. It’s the meeting of disco noveau and la cancion latinoamericana through the intuitive senses of Javiera and the nihilistic strings of Kelley Pollar. The Chilean chanteuse surveys music landscape carving for synth melodies, somehow, she extracts pearls. Yet with all the complexity that’s found in Mena, it almost sounds effortless. It’s way more accessible than Esquemas Juveniles and even more playful. Unlike some of her contemporaries (Bat For Lashes, Nite Jewel, Fever Ray), Javiera found a way around the vanguard and the dualistic; nowhere in the album does she sound perplexed or complicated, neither does she need a concept nor a character to legitimize her sonic trenches.
If her debut carried a sense of post-adolescent commentary, this second album outshines demographics. “Ahondar En Ti” opens the romantic disco ball in a very emotional piece resembling Pedro Almodovar’s sketchy sequence in Hable Con Ella, where a miniature man sneaks into his lover’s vagina. This song isn’t as sexually explicit, but invests on that notion of one’s inability of taking such inner trip. In the search of such poetic realm, the singer along with amazing producer Cristian Heyne, construct a hyper-industrialized setting where her voice is trenched into a mechanical body, “al tratar de concentrarme, y empezar a decidir, me doy cuenta que hay mas ganas, de ahondar en ti.” Every bounce in “Ahondar en Ti” feels like a hurtful stab in the heart, a dilemma that only finds harmony by assuming its sorrowful reality, “tu no me des la espalda, no, no me des la espalda… me enamore tambien de cuando me das la espalda.”
“Primera Estrella” outlines the album’s immersive composition; fantastically open to possibilities, revolutionary on its own terms, and in constant motion. Mena’s chameleon abilities, unique voice, and uniform lyricism make her sound like Timbiriche in this song, and there’s not an ounce of guilt or disappointment when I say that. If “Al Siguiente Nivel” was a generation’s transitory heartbeat into a new era, “Primera Estrella” is the allocation of such romantic notion but in a one-on-one rhythm; “ven para mi, ven pon tu mano en mi corazon.” The album keeps a luminous flow with “El Amanecer,” which is chopped into a mind-blowing sequence that’s the opposite of chillwave; something incredible considering it’s as sonically disembodied as any song from the latest Ariel Pink album.
The best moments of Mena arrive towards the end of the album, starting with the album’s best track “Luz de Piedra de Luna.” This is one of the best disco songs I’ve ever heard, just like Café Tacvba’s “El Baile y El Salon” or Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own”, Javiera takes ownership of the dance floor, she murders the scene with every step and even has a story to tell: “cuando empuje la puerta me empezo a pasar, que la noche la ocupaba yo en pensar en ti.” It’s mean and it’s poisoned, it’s a song not for the fainted hearted. Everything is perfectly executed, from the on-action beats to the passive tropical layer that later takes over the song’s climax. And let’s not forget that memorable cameo appearance by Lido Pimienta as the ghost of first love. Jens Lekman appearance in the soaring track “Sufrir” is equally inspiring; the song is a blast and no joke, they have as much chemistry as those Javiera-Gepe duets.
Spaniard pop visionary Emilio Jose once said Javiera did the most beautiful ‘slow’ songs in the planet, I agree. However, there are probably more disco strings in Mena than in any other album to be released this year; this is a disco dance record (do not call it electro-pop). If you are looking for the quiet magic of say “Camara Lenta” or “Sol de Invierno”, there’s a single track in Mena that will blow your mind away. “Un Audifono Tu, Un Audifono Yo” is breath-taking, almost unconceivable. The earphones as a device of emotional attachment, “como me gusta escuchar las canciones contigo.” Equally charming is “Aca Entera,” perhaps the catchiest song in the album and Javiera’s heart-on-her-sleeve moment. This is clearly a song for her girlfriend, a song about finding your whole… “cuando vamos las dos, son tus pasos latia, la bajada nos guia en directo al amor.” I cry everytime.
Javiera Mena is a pop genius, an individual that holds its ground through music as the individual art form and the art’s indefinite course to become something bigger. Mena, or the year’s best album will have to live its own albatross before we can call it immortal, but for the moment, let’s say Club Fonograma’s staff can’t enough of it, that it’s already inspiring us, that it’s our current obsession and our free-of-guilt center of devotion.