London-based, Argentinian-born Malena Zavala exposed her raw emotions on her sublime 2018 debut album Aliso. On La Yarará, she finds a way to dig even deeper. With densely layered songs drawing on cumbia, reggaeton, Afrofunk, Argentine folk, and bolero-son, as well as British and American music, La Yarará signals a future of pop that’s thrilling, colorful and multicultural, and cements Zavala—who sings in both English and Spanish—as one of the genre’s most sophisticated practitioners.
Opener “What If I” is a blossoming paean to possibility, where Zavala reflects on the price you pay to break away from what you’ve known—or what you’ve been known for. “And what if I broke away in one night? Would you forget me like the rest have?” she asks. “They came from nothing for a chance to be seen.” As the song progresses, that restless uncertainty gives way to a glowing euphoria—an affirmation that she’s made the right choices. On the swaggering title track, she pairs flamboyant trumpet and sharp, polyphonic percussion with distorted guitars and dense, swirling atmospherics. Other moments are more sparse: with its lilting, delicate vocal melody and haunting energy, “I’m Leaving Home” recalls the dark pop of Welsh artist Cate le Bon.
But where some of her contemporaries can get lost in their feelings, Zavala keeps things light throughout La Yarará by constantly bringing upbeat new styles into the mix, so that even when she’s brooding about “leaving home,” the mood remains bright and optimistically forward-looking.