Rosalía brings flamenco-tinged chamber pop to the masses

Rosalía brings flamenco-tinged chamber pop to the masses

November 29, 2018

The Catalonian artist Rosalía’s new album “El Mal Querer” presents a step forward for the traditional flamenco genre. For her, too, the album is a step forward, a large transition from the low-fi aesthetics of her first release, last year’s “Los Ángeles.” It’s an expansive, grandly-produced electronic evolution of flamenco. The singer’s strong voice and analogue origins aren’t lost in the swirling reverb.

“MALAMENTE – Cap. 1: Augurio” begins the album, with Rosalía laying down the stakes.
In this first chapter, she speaks of a bad omen. “I’m not going to waste another minute thinking about you,” she says in the bridge. It’s an ominous, catchy pop song, somehow simultaneously foreboding and an earworm.

It’s with the second track “QUE NO SALGA LA LUNA” (that the moon wouldn’t rise) that the flamenco roots become apparent, with Rosalía paying homage to her musical roots while also pushing it forward. There’s a looping guitar piece over percussive clapping, a repeated chorus of male voices that echo after her, almost like part of an old song that’s been merged with a new one. With her production, the artist sonically connects past and present.

“PIENSO EN TU MIRÁ – Cap. 3: Celos” is just as catchy as “MALAMENTE.” “I think on your gaze,” Rosalía repeats in Spanish, over and over with a chorus of girls overlapped, the beat pops and crackles, the percussive clapping interrupted every so often by the squawk of a walkie talkie. “Your piercing gaze is a bullet in the chest.” The track is complemented by a great music video: shots of truckers with carnations of blood blooming out of their chests—part of a recurring bull imagery, a man dancing over embers in the dark, a coordinated dance as semi-trucks creep up behind them, Rosalía singing as a gang of men point clubs, guns, machetes around her neck.

A later song, “RENIEGO,” or “I Deny,” in English, allows Rosalía to demonstrate her vocal prowess without the production intruding. Over spare strings her voice exudes ability, proving the singer’s talent sans electronic interference. “Como él, reniego,” she sings. “Because of him, I reject.”

My personal favorite song on the album, “BAGDAD,” begins with a distorted version of Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River” in Spanish. Rosalía’s voice rises, now sounding almost classical as she sings “She’s trapped in hell / Sitting, joining her hands / To the beat of bulerias / It seems like she was praying.” There’s a marked contrast between her voice, and the girl’s chorus that comes in behind her, as she sings of doom. On “BAGDAD” Rosalía somehow turns Timberlake into beautiful choral pop.

Harp production on “DI MI NOMBRE,” over the repeating infectious “Ali” lyric over and over again, with the electronically-produced chords fitting in perfectly. It’s simple, repetitive and effective.

On the second to last song, “MALDICION” she says, translated into English, “Love / in a moment I wanted / to be crazy and not to love / because love causes sorrow / Sorrow that has no end / And the crazy one lives without her.” This relates back to title “El Mal Querer,” the bad love, a force that Rosalía wrestles with throughout the album. Its style, influenced by a classical form but not bound by it, is original and compelling, and I’ll be listening to such favorites as “BAGDAD” and “QUE NO SALGA LA LUNA” for the foreseeable future.

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