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Tuesday Reviewsday: Javiera Mena, Pablo Alborán, Run the Jewels and Grouper

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Javiera Mena's "La Joya" music video is colorful and filled with fantasy.
screencap from Javiera Mena's "La Joya" music video/YouTube
Javiera Mena's "La Joya" music video is colorful and filled with fantasy.

Take Two features the latest in music with music journalist Chris Martins and Justino Aguila, Associate Editor of Latin at Billboard Magazine.

Music journalist Chris Martins and Justino Aguila, Associate Editor of Latin at Billboard Magazine join Take Two for the latest installment of new music segment - Tuesday Reviewsday.

Justino Aguila

Artist: Javiera Mena
Album: Otra Era [Another Era]
Release date: Oct. 28
Songs: “Otra Era”

Notes: Javiera Mena is not stuck in the ‘80s, but she sure knows how to party and pay homage to the era without losing her own musical style that feels new, fresh and danceable.

A native of Santiago, Chile, the songstress returns with a fourth album of pop music and love songs that hit a high note as endearing compositions that sparkle in themes that pay tribute to the synthpop acts of the ‘80s from Duran Duran to Spandau Ballet.

Mena brings her own point of view through the music and in lyric form as her songs go from deep ideas to fun in songs such “Otra Era” [Another Era), which looks at the wonderment of a relationship.

Seen and heard at music festivals around the world such as Mexico’s Vive Latino and Chile’s Lollapalooza, Mena has been steadily building audience with her brand of pop music. The current album showcases a more electropop side of Mena.

The Chilean indie electronic pop singer is part of a new wave of young female singers to emerge in a vein similar to the style of veteran singer/songwriter Julieta Venegas.  The two, along with Chilean crooner Gepe, performed together in 2013 for the song “Vuelve” [Return].

Artist: Pablo Alborán
Album: Terral [Dust Cloud]
Release date: Nov. 11
Songs: “Por Fin” and “Pasos de cero”

Notes: Spanish singer/songwriter Pablo Alborán has promised his fans that his new album is unlike anything he’s done before. He’s kept his word with the upcoming release of Terral or Cloud Dust.

Alborán is only 25 and the prolific songwriter's signature ballads consist of tight, eloquent and charming compositions which also reign in the current project (There's also a duet with pop star Ricky Martin).

This is Alborán’s fourth album, but the crooner has been writing music since he was 12 and equally performing everything from the piano to the guitar, among other instruments. H s style of writing is intimate, soulful and moving and that makes the Latin Grammy nominated recording artist worthy of a larger spotlight.

Instrumentation on the song “Por Fin” [Finally] compliments his smooth vocals so well as his flamenco style emerges equally in the love ballad.

“Pasos de cero” [Steps of Zero] also illustrates the power ballad technique that Alborán has made his own and he further heightens his craft by playing his own instruments such as the guitar. The song's lyrics combined with the music are upbeat, charming and catchy.

Alborán is known for his acoustic versions of his music and in many ways this is one of his strengths as a performer who can sing, write and perform wonderfully in front of an audience. His new album has a more refined pop vibe. American musician/producer Eric Rosse, who has worked with Tori Amos and Mary Lambert (She Keeps Me Warm), worked on the album.

This latest album is one that is sure to satisfy Alborán's followers and will undoubtedly attract new fans as well. The impressive collection of music should take his career to new heights.

Chris Martins

Artist: Run the Jewels (El-P and Killer Mike)
Album: Run the Jewels 2
Release date: October 24
Songs: "Early," "Crown" 

Warning: Explicit lyrics

Notes: Run the Jewels is a rap duo comprising: 1) Brooklyn's El-P, an alt-rap icon since the mid-'90s. He founded the influential Def Jux label, produced the revered Cannibal Ox album, and is a wordy, swaggerful rapper in his own right... And 2) Atlanta's Killer Mike, who made a debut on OutKast's 'Stankonia' album, had a key verse on "The Whole World" (he "caught the beat running like Randy Moss"), and has released six solo albums to date.

They are underground vets who've found a powerful lane together. El is known for words and beats that evoke dystopian paranoia (he's a noted Philip K. Dick fan). Mike's lyrics often take on corrupt politicians, religious hypocrites, and abusive police. He has been an active voice during the Ferguson debacle, speakin on CNN and FOX, and writing an essay for Billboard.

RTJ combines El's seething atmospheric discontent with Mike's eloquent granular takedown. But the delivery isn't heady. It's hot and fierce, with the give and take of Run D.M.C. and the anger of Public Enemy. This is their second free album in two years, and it's likely the best rap release of 2014. Guests include Rage Against the Machine's Zach de la Rocha and Blink-182's Travis Barker. The song "Early" plainly addresses police brutality, and El's "Crown" verse takes on the military.

Warning: Explicit lyrics

Artist: Grouper
Album: 'Ruins'
Release date: October 31
Songs: "Holding," "Lighthouse"

Notes: Liz Harris, a.k.a. Grouper, is a Northern California native who now lives in Astoria, Oregon (the setting of 'The Goonies'!). For a decade she's been creating praiseworthy ambient music and minimal dream-pop.

She uses piano, voice, guitar, and field samples, and often gathers the latter via artist residencies in faraway places. Her new album, Ruins, was recorded on one such excursion to Portugal. She says it was "the first time I'd sat still for a few years," in which she "processed" a lot of "political anger and emotional garbage" while there.

Her lyrics aren't easy to make out, but you can hear sounds of nature caught up in her hypnotic compositions. When she wasn't recording, she was hiking several miles to the beach on a path through ruins of old country estates. She calls the album "a document, a nod to that daily walk."

Harris is a noted visual artist as well, and does commissioned music for films and art installations too. Interestingly, her name isn't a reference to the fish, but to "the Group," the Fourth Way transcendental Christian commune in which she was raised. Her music is quiet but gorgeous, a little bit spooky and a lot bit entrancing. Out on Halloween.

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