Los Momentos, Julieta Venegas
Sony Music, Mexico
by Carlos Reyes
“Toda la mujer que yo no fui / por no quedarme a tu lado.” So sings Venegas against the backdrop of a menacing tango flair in title track of her sixth studio album. There’s inevitable posture in its composition—a dramatic classicist structure, wounding raw lyrics, and a tailored, almost cinematized vocal performance worthy of a María Luisa Bemberg film. The wavering of those spoken first words project vulnerability, but Venegas quickly finds her inner tenor and confronts the esoteric soundscape with profound emotional resonance. “Los Momentos” is a self-portrait of sorts. Like its album cover, it’s witty, tragic, and strong. And it borders on the sublime. Her career didn’t need this blockbuster piece, but it’s here to substantiate the calling of Julieta as a mononymous artist, something of great artistic regard, especially in Latin America.
First promotional cut “Tuve Para Dar” confused more than it amused and, although “Te Vi” is arguably Julieta’s best single since “Lento,” neither track prepared us for the kind of album that would be presented to us. Los Momentos is a mesmerizing surprise. While the singles (+ the presence of Javiera Mena and Gepe) pointed us to a Chilean pop agenda, Julieta has triggered the edge of her past and reconciled it with the zeitgeist. Purists won’t agree, but Los Momentos is Julieta’s first rock album in many years, and arguably her best since Bueninvento. This is not coming from a rockosaurio who’s been longing for Julieta’s return to rock music, but rather from someone who’s embraced the cultural significance of Julieta’s tour de force pop ventures.
Expressively alert and often desolate, Los Momentos is an album whose contemplative agency will challenge the mainstream, but never to the point of alienation. Album opener “Hoy” seems like a happy-go-lucky number, and yet it breaks your heart in the most hummable of ways. The emotional deconstruction follows into “¿Por Que?,” where melodic mood is empowered by obscurity. But we’re never entirely lost; we’re able to hold on to Julieta’s instrumental pedigree as that familiar accordion line unfolds into our memory and encourages the emotional and physical mobility she advocates on the lyrics. Notions of sorrow and displacement predominate on the album, and it’s hard not to link such tormenting feelings to a personal and eventually shared response to Mexico’s riveting violence.
Los Momentos negotiates its themes with its subjects at such clarity that the emotional landscape truly feels universal. The album’s complexity comes from the small gestures offered by Julieta’s well-thought out choices. Gestures like the extension of vowels, the making of bridges from the back vocals into the foreground, and the prioritizing of melodramatic flairs over centerpieces. Those gestures are best presented as melodic swellings and vocal crescendos in the opening and closing numbers “Hoy” and “Un Poco de Paz,” as well as in album best “Nada Importante.” There’s no deeper cut than the realization of a “nothingness,” and it is here where the singer surrenders her narratives to the rhythm of the pulse.
It’s a shame there’s not a term as self-defining and private as that of the “auteur” to commend someone’s creative control in music. Perhaps because music is in itself a medium assimilated to a personal space, music journalism has settled for descriptive salutations that fall short of celebrating someone like Julieta Venegas. Not that Julieta herself would care about validating a title, but when an artist is able to personalize narratives and increasingly break conventions while maintaining relevance to the society she serves, there’s a responsibility to accentuate and embrace individual idiosyncrasy. Working on a commercial venture that reconciles artistic possibilities with mass absorption, Julieta’s Los Momentos, is a triumphant gesture of the artists’ sensitivity, and dare I use the word, intelligence.