Can a young woman who grew up in Czechoslovakia and Seattle really get to the heart of South American music? Well, probably not; there is just too much in the way. But can she craft a record that delves heavily into Latin styles to create something beautiful and new and cool as hell? Why, yes she can.
Topferova has a lovely clear voice, low but not mannish, sweet and sad and full of gravity beyond her 29 years. She also has a real feel for the Spanish language, in which all these songs are written. The word-play on the title track is nimble without being showy: “La tierra huele después que llueve / El amor duele al partir / Incertidumbre, melancolía / Ojos cansados de sufrir”. (This translates as “The earth smells after it rains / Love hurts at parting / Uncertainty, melancholy / Eyes tired of suffering”... but listen to the way the original sounds, with all those lovely Ls!) How she manages this, considering Spanish is at least her third language, is beyond me—but when songs are this beautiful, I’m not asking too many questions.
When she takes on a song, she owns it completely. “Mañana Nevada”, or “Snowy Morning”, is a new beautiful torch song with Brazilian overtones and a canny French horn performance from Chris Komer. Topferova sails through the impressionist lyrics about snow covering a town, not betraying that there is any agenda in the tune other than simple description of details. It is not until the final lines, which work out to “This is what I see in the mirror / My face turned pale / Like the landscape that surrounds me”, that she allows her voice to break, just a tiny bit, just enough to reveal the heartbreak.
This vaguely stoic-yet-sad feel permeates the album, but not everything is formed from the same template. “Fin de Fiesta”, the last song, is a fast minor-key mostly-instrumental jam with some vocal interjections that form a minimal melody. “Limonero” is a quiet piece full of mystery and hope, framed by a killer Colombian harp riff by Edmar Castañeda and a nicely bowed bass from Pedro Giraudo.
Castañeda’s harp work is one of the best contributions here; he has a certain chemistry with Topferova, and he is featured on most of the songs. Other guests are showcased just as beautifully: Angus Martin’s accordion on the title track, for instance, and Yulia Musayelyan’s flute on “Ensueño”. The album’s secret weapon is probably Enrique López, who helps to arrange most of the songs, keeping them light and heavy at the same time.
But the most impressive thing about La Marea is the way Marta Topferova seems to have emerged fully-formed as a great and important songwriter who can sing the hell out of her own songs. The infinite longing lurking within “La Gran Manzana” and “Semana Azul” will fill your heart with emotions you forgot you have. This is a stunning record, in any sense of the word you can think of.