ListN Up: Angélica Negrón (May 1, 2020)

ListN Up is a series of weekly artist-curated playlists. Born from a desire to keep artists sharing and connected during times of isolation, ListN Up offers an intimate sonic portrait of contemporary artists by showcasing the diverse and stylistically varied music that influences their creative practice. This series is sponsored by American Composers Forum/innova Recordings with new releases every Friday on I CARE IF YOU LISTEN.

Puerto Rican-born composer and multi-instrumentalist Angélica Negrón writes music for accordions, robotic instruments, toys and electronics as well as for chamber ensembles, orchestras and choir. Her music has been described as “wistfully idiosyncratic and contemplative” (WQXR/Q2) while The New York Times noted her “capacity to surprise.” Negrón has been commissioned by the Bang on a Can All-Stars, loadbang, MATA Festival, Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Sō Percussion, the American Composers Orchestra and the New York Botanical Garden, among others. Upcoming premieres include works for the LA Philharmonic, Dallas Symphony Orchestra and National Symphony Orchestra, the San Francisco Girls Chorus and the NY Philharmonic Project 19 initiative. She continues to perform and compose for film as well as with her tropical indie band Balún.

For my playlist, I decided to share some of my favorite songs that I keep coming back to time and time and again. Songs that bring me joy, comfort and even profound sadness, and that have accompanied me through many different moments in my life. These songs all hold a special place in my body and heart, and have made me think of music in new ways. The artists represented here are ones I hugely admire and showcase the multiplicities of latinidad as well as other identities that highlight stories of resilience, compassion, grief, trauma, triumph, love, and introspection. When nothing else in the world makes sense, these songs keep me grounded and remind me that even within hopeless uncertainty, if there’s one thing that’s certain, it is the immense beauty that surrounds me which transcends what I’m able to understand. 

Nada by Lido Pimienta

Colombian-Canadian artist Lido Pimienta is one of my favorite artists. Her unapologetic, honest, and catchy songs are often on heavy rotation at home. She mixes folk genres like cumbia, bullerengue and porro with reggaetón as well as modern and orchestral production. This song “Nada” is from her new album “Miss Colombia,” which I’m completely in love with. The video is also breathtaking and features her beautiful family as well as Bomba Estéreo’s singer Li Samuel. Lido has a very unique way of bringing complicated stories to life, like the intergenerational trauma of motherhood, while at the same time highlighting its inherent beauty. I really enjoy the refreshing and compelling woodwind arrangements and the contrast between Lido and Li’s voices, both powerful in their own distinctive way.

País Nublado by Helado Negro

This song by Ecuadorian-American multi-instrumentalist Helado Negro has the chill vibes I wish I could always have in my life. I really like how evocative and dreamy the lyrics are and the subtle female vocals from Adron that come in after the first chorus.  The melody is also hauntingly beautiful and the simple yet effective instrumentation resonates so deeply. Helado Negro’s music always puts a smile on my face and reminds me to be present when my mind and body forget.

Again by Empress Of

I’ve been a big fan of Empress Of for a long time, and recently also a fan of her mom who makes her costumes (she has her own Instagram under the name Latina Knowles!) who’s charming voice has also made it into some of Lorely’s recent tracks. I remember hearing her first EP “Systems” a long time ago and being completely captivated by her moving songs in English and Spanish as well as her stunning voice, which reminded me of Cocteau Twin’s Liz Fraser. There’s something very special about the vocal melody in this song along with the repetitive synths that always makes me very emotional and teary-eyed. This song for me is like a snow globe full of distant memories that I want to revisit again and again.

Visions of Gideon by Sufjan Stevens

The first time I heard this song was during the end credits of the film Call Me By Your Name with Elio sobbing uncontrollably as Sufjan’s sweet voice sings, “I have loved you for the last time, is it a video?” This moment destroyed me, and every time I hear this song, it brings up so many emotions. Sufjan has one of the most gorgeous voices, and his melodies have a way of pulling at my heartstrings like no one else. There’s something about his music and this song, in particular, that seems to transcend earth and arrive at a sort of sublime alternate plane of existence.

El Mundo Secreto de la Montaña by Federico Durand

I love ambient music, but oftentimes have a hard time finding pieces that don’t activate the analytical part of my brain that keeps me from actually enjoying the music. Argentina’s sound artist Federico Durand always makes me forget I make music and immerses me in his sonic landscapes like no other artist. His simple yet always evolving and interesting lo-fi textures as well as his evocative song titles bring me to a place of deep relaxation and realization of the beauty around me that I often take for granted. He’s also one of the few artists I can listen to while I work, and I love using his songs at the end of my classes for my young students to cool down and reflect while bathing in his magical sound world.

Ausencias by NOIA

NOIA is the solo project of Barcelona native Gisela Fullà-Silvestre. Her voice is so soothing and sensual, and she’s one of my favorite electronic music producers. She’s also a very talented sound designer, and I had the fortune of working with her recently on a documentary I scored titled Landfall by Cecilia Aldarondo, which was scheduled to premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival this year. I love that she brings her creative sound design skills to the production of her tracks. Though they’re heavily electronic, her songs always feel incredibly alive and dynamic. Her introspective lyrics often move seemingly from Spanish to English, and I love the line in this song that says, “Do I want you or do I want to be you?”

Desafío by Arca

I first heard of Venezuelan artist Arca with the early dreamy synth-pop songs under the name Nuuro (teenage years). Many years later, I remember being completely enthralled by her production work for artists like Björk and FKA Twigs, and soon after discovering her solo music. Her self-titled album Arca (2017) is one of my favorite albums and the song “Desafío” makes me want to cry, dance, and sleep all at the same time. It feels contemplative, romantic, aggressive, entrancing, and incredibly intimate while also having a larger than life epic quality to it. I love the production and the vocals in this track, and this album always reminds me in a strange way of Pedro Almodovar’s films (no idea why).

Cellophane by FKA Twigs

This song and video are so striking and expressive. It almost feels like a short film that I don’t want to ever end. The sound of her heels scraping the floor, the color palette and the textures both in the music and the visuals make me want to swim in this song. I love how her voice and body are always so connected into one. She has such an impressive control of her voice and body while maintaining a sense of vulnerability that’s really captivating and affecting. There’s also something about the vocals towards the end of this song that remind me of Tori Amos in the “Little Earthquake” days. Twigs is such a breathtaking performer and composer, and the athleticism and commitment she brings to her performances is out of this world. 

Nautilus by Anna Meredith

British composer Anna Meredith’s fearless, grandiose and relentless Nautilus blew my mind when I first heard it. There’s something very genuine about her music and about how she blends synth-pop with orchestral music in a way that sounds like nothing else I’ve heard before. Her score for the film Eighth Grade, which includes an epic pool party scene set to this piece, is brilliant. I really appreciate her sense of irreverence while also making you feel like this is the most important thing in the world at the moment. I have no idea how she does this.

La Visita by Juana Molina

Juana is one of those artists I remember listening to in a CD format. I remember holding the booklet for her album Segundo while laying down in my bed and obsessively trying to memorize the lyrics as I was listening to it. She’s such a talented singer-songwriter, and I had a really hard time choosing one song because all of her albums are so good. I decided to go with “La Visita” from Segundo because the lyrics about her mom coming to visit her always get me. They’re so casual and matter of fact while at the same time achieving a level of profundity and capturing something about the mother/daughter relationship that feels strikingly familiar. Her voice, the detuned synths, and the almost lullaby-like feeling of this song are all so perfectly put together. Juana used to be a very famous comedian in Argentina and left her profession to pursue music. Her live performances are some of the best I’ve ever seen, and she’s super hilarious when she performs, making really funny faces and small witty comments in between songs.

Arisen My Senses by Björk

Björk is one of the main reasons I make music and one of my biggest inspirations. This song co-produced with Arca from her most recent album Utopia feels so optimistic and full of life. The downpour of harps, samples, and vocal layers coming at you from all directions is so satisfying and stimulating in a way that reminds me of “All is full of love.” I also love how this song and the whole album weaves tropical birdsong samples from French ornithologist Jean C.Roche’s Birds of Venezuela and the imaginative flute arrangements that tie everything together. Her live show for this album under the name “Cornucopia,” which was directed by the talented Argentine film director Lucrecia Martel, was hands-down the most inspiring show I’ve ever seen, and every time I think about it, I feel like it never actually happened and I just dreamt it.

Want more from Angélica Negrón?

Watch a video of her work gone performed by Sō Percussion.

Read a review of The Blue Hour, a work she collaboratively composed with Rachel Grimes, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Shara Nova, and Caroline Shaw on I CARE IF YOU LISTEN.

Read Jay Derderian’s review of Eleonore Oppenheim’s 2016 innova release Home, which includes Angélica’s work La Isla Magica, on I CARE IF YOU LISTEN.