Camila Moreno’s ‘Mala Madre’ Is a Stunning, Ambitious Chilean Folk Pop Record

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We hold great artists in high regard for making art that, if not unprecedented and wholly original, at least bears their seal and their personalities. For most talented artists who don’t eventually plateau, we’re content if they just provide good, reliable art, especially when it’s entertaining. It’s hard for an artist to wear their influences or the sonic stylings of their genre without sounding derivative and unimaginative. Camila Moreno proves that artistry and songwriting are key to achieving something ambitious without getting overblown.

On her fourth album, the Grammy-nominated Chilean singer is still harnessing the sounds of folky pop music to her advantage. Although Mala Madre is not her calling card, it’s a great introduction for anyone who is not familiar with her work, especially since it was released for free download for 24 hours and is now widely available. Being her biggest artistic statement yet, it’s not a bad place to start.

Moreno’s compositional ferocity rears its head from the get-go. Fingerpicked guitars and close harmonies open the first song on the album, “Tu Mamá Te Mató,” but the track doesn’t stall, giving way to big percussion and cinematic arrangements. Everything you need to know about Mala Madre is here. Her melodies and vocal arrangements are folky with a modern touch; she’s not afraid of using contemporary studio sounds to make her music as grand as possible. The songs here are defined by epic arrangements, urgent sonics, noisy contrasts, and first-rate artistry that help the songs inhabit a bigger shell.

On the second half of the record, there are arrangements and sounds that are reminiscent of sultry trip-hop, a bit of influence from vintage Portishead and Garbage, in addition to the folk pop sensibility. What makes Moreno’s music exciting is that she’s not merely copying trip-hop clichés or Florence and the Machine-type music. It’s all her, it’s ambitious, and it’s refined.

Not everything here is moody or bombastic. The first two singles from the record, “Sin Mi” and “Libres y Estúpidos,” are quite different. On “Sin Mi,” Moreno’s unique voice propels a sweeping ballad with lush, ambitious arrangements, while “Libres y Estúpidos” is a harder, driving song. Elsewhere, there’s “Maquinas Sin Dios,” which is more rhythmic, while “Bathory” has a witchy yet sophisticated vibe with warmth and plenty of catchiness.

Mala Madre is a great artistic statement with plenty of ambition. It is also a big pop record, and it should be easy for anyone to wander into Camila Moreno’s world and share her fears, doubts, and moments of joy.