Mena Goes Upbeat

By: Marcelo Báez

Four years after her solid 2006 debut with Esquemas Juveniles, Javiera released Mena, which somehow turned some of us into bigger, dorkier fans of her work than we already were. How could it not? Mena is the perfect pop record. “Hasta La Verdad” and “Luz de Piedra de Luna” work incredibly well on the dance floor, while “No Te Cuesta Nada” and “Un Audífono Tú, Un Audífono Yo” are the type of ballads even Ana Gabriel—one of Javiera’s favorite singers—can fall in love with. But Mena also showed Javiera’s songwriting prowess had evolved from a good laptop musician, to a very capable and impressive indie pop star. Four years later, Otra Era finally landed on my computer desktop, and I’ve been listening to it nonstop for over a week.

Produced by Cristian Heyne, Mena’s longtime collaborator, Otra Era finds the duo exploring the same musical landscape (pop, essentially), but with louder synthesizers and faster drum machines. Javiera released “Espada” as the first single months ago, and frankly it veered a little too close toward Ibiza-style Euro-disco for my taste. Even some Europeans, the only ones who could possibly stomach “Espada,” were like “WTF is this?” (“This is as far as Javiera Mena’s respectable career goes. From now on, it’s all Latin Grammys and collaborations with David Bisbal,” said one disappointed fan.)

“La Joya,” the second single, is a lot closer to the Javiera Mena sound we’ve come to adore, but the song is only marginally better than “Espada.” The problem? It sounds, well, really dorky. There’s a cool, elegant and detached nostalgia in the songwriting behind Esquemas Juveniles and Mena. Most of songs in those two records would never be sung by, say, Anahi (ex-RBD) or Selena Gomez. But if Fanny Lú released “La Joya,” no one would find it strange. Interestingly, it was not too long ago that Javiera wrote a song for Danna Paola, a generic pop-star-type, so perhaps Mena was still in writing-for-others mode when she penned these two singles.

Upon closer inspection Otra Era isn’t devoid of the jewels it so fondly speaks of. “Otra Era,” the third single, is a marvelous pop song; soft, dreamy and with great melodies. It’s one of the best songs Mena has ever written. In fact, listening to the rest of the record it’s hard to imagine why the Chilean songstress choose “Espada” and “La Joya” as lead singles over “Que Me Tome la Noche” or “Sincronía, Pegaso.”

Few songwriters can dominate both dance floor fillers and ballads, but Javiera is quite adept at it. On “Pide,” the listener is treated to beautiful arpeggios and touching lyrics. “Quédate Un Ratito Más” is the only other slow number on the record (and it’s okay) but judging by the sheer number of high-energy songs, which make up most of the record, it’s clear Mena is here to party, not romanticize.

Still, a big appeal behind the Javiera Mena brand is that, without being explicit about it, she always challenges her fans with music from another era. For example, in 2006 she put out ’80s-type pop, such as the aforementioned Romo cover, and before that she produced weird folk music (also from another era). Oddly, a lot of Otra Era is, at its core, mostly EDM, which is in fact part of this era—and it’s way too abundant.

As a whole Otra Era is no dud, and I can see Mena gaining many new fans with the harder, louder electro sound. Then again, I can also see many of her “respectable” enthusiasts shunning the polished, dance club-friendly sound. Can those two groups coexist? No? Maybe? Perhaps in some other time—or another era.

LOGISTICS: Otra Era by Javiera Mena, available here

Marcelo Baéz is a writer, DJ, and musician based in NYC. When he's not producing "Rico Suave" parties, he releases music under P3CULIAR.