Last year’s De Facto was the fifth release by Mexican duo, Lorelle Meets The Obsolete, the third of their albums to be released internationally, and the first that I heard. It grabbed me immediately, from its jarring and bruising opener. The intriguing mix of dream pop gone wrong and electronica providing a psychedelic nightmare soundscape, with every beautiful and serene moment being met with something darker and more threatening, had me hooked. The duo released an EP earlier this year, which is just as enthralling. Also this year, Lorena Quintanilla (Lorelle) has released a second solo album as J. Zunz, and it has quite a different feel to the 2017 debut.
Actually, I’ll admit I was unaware that there had been an earlier J. Zunz album, until I visited the Bandcamp page. I listened to that earlier album (Silente) before moving on to this new release, Hibiscus. In every way, Hibiscus is a more impressive album than its predecessor. Although Quintanilla’s idea for J. Zunz to be stripped right back, Silente felt too stripped back for me. Even though you could argue that Hibiscus is still stripped back, compared with Lorelle Meets The Obsolete, is is far more lush and full than Silente. It’s somewhat odd, perhaps, to describe such almost ambient and quite minimalist music as having fullness of sound, but it’s also undeniably true.
Hibiscus is far closer to silence than Silente was, and it works incredibly well. ‘Less is more’ is a cliché often pulled out by reviewers (including myself), but it’s hard to deny how well that approach works on an album such as this. Even Quintanilla’s vocals are pulled back into the mix, a ghostly and ephemeral undertone adding texture and colour, and working more as another instrument. There’s an otherworldly sound to the vocals that helps transport me away to another place for the duration of the album.
Unlike Lorelle Meets The Obsolete, although the music of J. Zunz might sound, as aforementioned, otherworldly, it never really feels ominous. That is, until you hit the midpoint of the album, but even 33:33 never feels threatening. There’s never that sense of teetering on the edge of a precipice that Lorelle Meets The Obsolete can give. The harsher notes and stronger percussion of the heavier moments of 33:33 don’t really even add a sense of unease, so much as a point of interest. Which is a good thing, as otherwise it might break the almost hypnotic feel of the album. Bandcamp describes “compelling trance states”, and it’s not wrong. 33:33 provides a passage on the album that makes the listener take note, without being jolted out of the comfort zone the album provides as a whole.
White Labels uses the same rhythmic tune of 33:33, with a different sound, which is a really neat trick. Both tracks sound so similar as they begin, and yet so different. The drone which gradually and increasingly takes over the song is mesmerisingly beautiful. When it drops away, to leave soft vocals in the background, it’s even more so. This is the overwhelming feel of Hibiscus – something gentle, hypnotic and hauntingly beautiful. At times eerie, but never uneasy. And yet, the beauty of the instrumentation hides how dark and harrowing – even violent – the album often can be lyrically. Quintanilla has described the recording of Hibiscus as being cathartic, and this is reflected in the way the lyrics deal with exorcising her demons and fears, over music that is almost overwhelmingly calm and tranquil. It provides a sense of strength overcoming vulnerability.
I’ll admit that when I first listened to Hibiscus, I was a little underwhelmed. But this was because I was unfairly comparing the album to Lorelle Meets The Obsolete. J. Zunz is not that band, and the music is not the same. However, it really didn’t take too many listens to realise how deep under my skin this album had dug, and how much I love it. If this is the direction Quintanilla is taking with her solo work, then I am entirely onboard, and though Hibiscus has only just been released, I’m already impatient for the next album!
01. Y (4:06)
02. Four Women And Darkness (5:56)
03. Jùpiter (2:55)
04. 33:33 (5:06)
05. White Labels (5:11)
06. Overtime (3:37)
07. America Is A Continent (5:16)
08. Ouve-Me (3:30)
Total Time – 35:37
J. Zunz – Vocals, All Instrumentation
Record Label: Rocket
Country of Origin: Mexico
Date of Release: 21st August 2020