Alejandra Ribera sets the bar high for her second album, La Boca, before the listener even hears it. In the liner notes, Ribera speaks of the slew of inspirations that birthed the record: sub-glacial lakes, bioluminescence, coming home, leaving home, watching through the window of a hospital where her friend lay dying. The songs don’t disappoint, and it’s easy to hear the weight of those concepts and events throughout the album.
La Boca is an album that feels as though it knows it’s burdened, but refuses to let that stand in its way. The crescendo at the end of “Bad Again,” where Ribera belts, “I’ve been spending time alone with love/I’ve been spending time alone about the house/I’ve been spending time alone with love/and I suspect it’s not enough” leads directly into the upbeat drive of “I Want,” the spiritual axis of La Boca. The chorus starts off with Ribera admitting, “there’s so much labour just in breathing lately,” but jumps into a list of “wants,” hopeful in the sense that things might be bad right now but there are reasons not to give up.
The emotional peak is “Un Cygne La Nuit,” a heartbreaker duet all smoky voices and sparse piano, where our two heroes whisper, “this is the saddest serenade/these are the only notes left to play.” With two minutes left, it switches gears, and together they sing, “come home, come home, come home,” as if simply the power of those two words together would be enough to make it so.
La Boca is a stunning record, full of gorgeous atmosphere, but not at the cost of precise, heart-on-the-sleeve songwriting. Ribera says it took about 645 days, the gestation period of an African Elephant, to get done. Worth the wait. (Pheromone Recordings, alejandraribera.com) Matt Williams