Rosalía – El Mal Querer (Sony)
After I file my year-end lists for the Waterloo Record in December, I scour those of others to find out what I missed. Often, obviously, there are many gems that slipped past my radar. This year my favourite “discovery” came out only two months ago, and landed at No. 6 on Pitchfork’s year-end list. So I don’t feel that bad for not noticing it earlier, because a) it wasn’t that long ago and b) it’s by a young neo-flamenco singer from Spain—not a genre or a corner of the world I usually follow.
Rosalía Vila Tobella, 25, grew up in suburbs of Barcelona and studied flamenco for eight years before debuting in 2017 with an album called Los Ángeles, a largely acoustic affair that sounded like an indie-rock take on traditional flamenco songs (the otherwise Spanish album concluded with a cover of Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s “I See a Darkness”). El Mal Querer, on the other hand, is a bright and bold pop record, with electronic underpinnings, big harmonies and occasionally AutoTuned vocals augmenting the flamenco guitars and handclaps. Though recorded by electronic producer El Guincho, El Mal Querer is helmed by Rosalía: composer, arranger, instrumentalist, co-producer—and, most notably, an absolutely arresting vocalist. The album debuted at No. 1 in Spain when it was released in early November. The album’s first two videos have more than 15 million views. Small wonder why.
Throughout, she’s firmly rooted in the strong flamenco tradition: rules she’s studied rigorously in order to break them. “Reniego” finds her accompanied only by a string section, but there is no question this is a pop record—albeit one made entirely on the singer’s terms. The arrangements veer just as easily toward the avant-garde as they do to the mainstream; in some ways, that makes Rosalía a Spanish analogue to Lorde. It makes sense that she’s been courted recently by both Arca (Bjork’s Vultura) and Pharrell Williams.
Considering the wide influence of the Spanish diaspora, it’s odd that there hasn’t been an international star from the Iberian Peninsula since Enrique Iglesias. I’d place my money on Rosalía changing that narrative in the near future. (Jan. 4)
Stream: “Malamente,” “Pienso En Tu Mirá,” “Lamento”