- The second album from Chilean dance-pop chanteuse Javiera Mena is nothing if not commanding. It begins with what sounds like a quasar burning to the rhythm of a metronome, followed quickly by a split-second hush. Finally, a long slow cry of compassion and warmth. Then, right when you think you've figured it all out, the beat begins to grow legs, and suddenly tramples all over your heartstrings. And we're not even ten seconds into the record yet.
But Mena doesn't impose its will through brute force or supercilious attitude. That would be too easy. Instead, Mena slinks her way into your soul with a carefully assembled variety of techno and disco signifiers and a vocal cadence so passionate that there's no chance of a dry eye (or trouser) in the house by album's end.
Those already aware of and awed by Javiera's highly acclaimed debut will likely recognize the substantial steps forward that her sound has taken, which as a whole has become more idiosyncratic compared to the previous album's intervals of straight influence-pastiches. Quite simply, Mena, as the album art and title make quite obvious, finds Javiera branching out and creating her own fusion of mid-'80s Miami dance pop and freestyle, Euro electro pop, and late '70s disco; seamlessly creating an aural cocktail volatile by nature, but stable and powerful in its finished form.
But enough about Mena as an album, and on to the individual goodies; there are no shortage of dance floor fillers, and no track is better built for the mirror ball and black light scene than lead single "Hasta la Verdad." Fueled by a galloping 4/4 beat, rubato synth lines and Hollywood disco strings (arranged by Environ's resident disco weirdo Kelley Polar), "Hasta" could be lumped in with other indistinguishable nu-disco joints, but Javiera's voice soars at just the right moments, barreling through the language barrier like emotions were a mere militia-made border wall. Her command over the beat only gets better on later tracks, like the airy, hi-hat stomp of "El Amanecer" and the Jens Lekman duet "Sufrir," where Javiera's conversational phrasing and charisma enrapture the deceptively simple rhythms to the point of melodrama, but without an ounce of manufactured pomp cheese.
The absolute highlight, however, is the luxuriant and addictive "Luz de Piedra de Luna." Initially built off of a skeletal beat, the track elevates almost directly in-line with Javiera's voice; when she barks, the music responds by unleashing the salsa piano and Miami Sound Machine drums, and when she purrs, it reduces back to a minimal pulse and house shuffle. It's the type of dance song that fits any atmosphere, combining disparate elements and eras into something unique and contemporary.
While the instant selling point may be the big beat dance jams, Mena truly distinguishes itself in its slower, more intimate moments. "No Te Cuesta Nada" moves with the heft and grace of the greatest senior prom theme song that never was, and "Un Audiofono Tu, Un Audiofono Yo" provides the album with a more-than-fitting dénouement: tender, heartbreaking, yet inspiring. This is dance pop for lovers, but even if you don't fit the whole spousal requirement, just go ahead and love the music.
01. Ahondar En Ti
02. Hasta La Verdad
03. Primera Estrella
04. El Amanecer
05. No Te Cuesta Nada
06. Luz De Piedra De Luna
08. Acá Entera
09. Un Audífono Tú, Un Audífono Yo