The Stranger vs. Bumbershoot
Juana MolinaSun Sept 4, Northwest Court Lounge, 8:15–9:15 pm
Conventional wisdom says that music and humor rarely make for compatible bedfellows. For a change, conventional wisdom is right on. Most attempts at humor horribly date music. Roll over Frank Zappa and tell Ween the news.
In the 1990s, Juana Molina was something like the Tina Fey of Argentina. With little effort, she landed a prime slot on a sketch-comedy TV program and ascended to the upper stratum of Argentina's entertainment industry. "Broadly speaking," Molina says, "I can say my show was about impersonation—sketches with very typical characters from Buenos Aires, some of them funnier than others."
Then in 1996, she blithely walked away from her easily won fame and fortune and plunged headlong into a music career. Funnily enough, Molina couldn't be more content toiling as a cult figure for British indie Domino Records, for whom she's released the fine Segundo and Tres Cosas albums. Obscurity knocked and Molina gladly opened the door to it. "I'm very happy that finally I am doing what I always wanted to do," she confesses.
"I've always been a musician," she continues. "But, unfortunately, for a long time I just couldn't sing in front of anyone except my sister or my father. So, I couldn't live from music. Because I wanted to live on my own, pay my rent and guitar lessons, I decided to work on TV (I just knew I could do it), and it worked so well that I almost forgot my first goal. And after seven years, I got pregnant, had to stay in bed, and realized I was on the wrong [path]. So I decided to stop acting immediately. I went to my 'archives,' listened, and started to work on a record. I didn't care at all [if] people thought that I was crazy."
On television, Molina played several characters. "I was a very sarcastic critic to anybody else's work (regardless of their occupation)," Molina told www.junkmedia.com. "This is what I represented in the TV show: different characters with very different personalities. Always 'putting the finger in the wound,' as we say."
This caustic nature contrasts with her on-disc demeanor, which is melancholy, serene, and even sweet. Her breezy coo recalls the hushed croon of bossa-nova star Astrud Gilberto and Ivy's Dominique Durand. Her understated songs can comfortably segue into DJ sets featuring Savath & Savalas, the Sea and Cake, Ivy, and Nouvelle Vague.
Molina's second album, Segundo, abounds with lilting, baby-butt-soft indie-rock tunes that murmur and bubble with subtle electronics. The recent Tres Cosas proffers 13 pacific, cozy folktronica gems. This music's lightweight, and it will charm the knickers off you and induce at least a few dozen goose bumps. But, you will likely not crack a smile while listening to it. And that's fine with Molina.
"Humor and music are absolutely incompatible," she proclaims. "If we talk about comedy... but you can make very funny music. It is a very different kind of humor, of course. To explain this I could mention the humor in 'Medlong' (on her Segundo album): Suddenly there's an instrument that 'sings' very ridiculously. It makes me laugh."
Other things that make Molina laugh are American comedians like the Marx Brothers, Jerry Lewis ("the movies with Dean Martin. I don't like his kind of crazy doctor he made"), and the sitcom Seinfeld.
While American comedy often infiltrates into other countries, it's safe to say that most Americans aren't familiar with Argentinean comedians. When I press Molina to reveal some national humor traits, however, she deflects my question.
"Would you be able to describe U.S. humor?" she quite reasonably counters. "I think the difference is the things we talk about. Because we are different, we have different political situations, different language (there's always problems to translate humor; you have to adapt it to the country). I would even say our humor is not 100 percent understandable for a Spanish person or a Colombian. Humor is always about details (unless it is physical humor), about personal things. It's easier to make a joke about a friend to other friends, [about] things you don't have to explain because your friends already know.
"What I'm trying to say is, language is a very delicate thing, and that's the reason why I don't sing in English." Thankfully, Molina's music translates very well into the near-universal language of sonic bliss.