Mexican Pop Sophisticate Natalia Lafourcade Plays Chicago



Natalia Lafourcade
  • Natalia Lafourcade
I remember getting a copy of the self-titled debut album from Mexican pop singer Natalia Lafourcade back in 2003 and thinking it was nice, smart, and stylish but not particularly compelling compared to the work of more forceful Mexican artists like Julieta Venegas and Cafe Tacuba. Lafourcade was only 19 back then, but I didn’t bother to keep tabs on her development—which, as it turns out, was a mistake.

She’s still writing frothy pop tunes, but on her latest album, Hu Hu Hu (Sony Music, Mexico), she’s come a long way: her melodic instincts are sharper and her arrangements are vastly more sophisticated. She wrote most of the 13 songs during an extended stay in Ottawa, Canada, where after several years of solid touring and recording (her second, stronger album, Casa, came out in 2005) she planned to take a break from music and study English. But according to her press materials, she was crashing in a house filled with artists and musicians, and her creative impulses took over. Not only did she start working on the songs that would become her current album, she wrote a pleasant nonrock instrumental suite called Las Cuatro Estaciones del Amor, which she would later record in her native Jalapa, Mexico (it’s downloadable free here). The suite is a four-part interpretation of the seasons (Ravel can rest easy) where quasi-classical voicings collide with bits of tango and the bright melodic phrases that characterize most of her work.

Lafourcade’s musical curiosity had already led her to traffic in more than just the bubbly hooks that anchor her first two records: she’d dabbled in the breezy vibe of bossa nova and incorporated traces of ska, metal guitar, and funk, as well as the occasional Bjork-like flourish (both in her voice and the arrangements). But the accomplished detour of Las Cuatro Estaciones del Amor suggested something more. And while Hu Hu Hu doesn’t attempt any major stylistic shifts from her previous pop albums, it’s nonetheless clear that she’s operating at a much higher level. The new record brings a handful of contemporary pop singers to mind, among them Juana Molina, Venegas (who makes a cameo on the title track), St. Vincent, and Feist, but Lafourcade’s got a much sunnier disposition, which I can pick up just fine even though most of the songs are in Spanish. And when she opts for English on “Look Outside,” it’s impossible to miss her giddy optimism: “Look, look at the blue sky!” Considering her rate of artistic growth—she’s still only 25—I can only imagine what she’s going to do next.

Lafourcade performs Sunday night at the Logan Square Auditorium. Mexico City trio Hello Seahorse, whose latest album, Bestia, was recently released digitally by Nacional Records, are also on the bill. The group’s sugary pop takes make me back to the 80s, when labels like Sarah and Subway were in their heydays, but Hello Seahorse add chintzy Casio-style synths and harder beats.

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