Earlier this week, the Spanish flamenco artist Rosalía could be seen standing on top of an ATV, singing and appearing to cry during a live-streamed album release show. As the 25-year-old’s mascara began to run, one of her dancers revved the vehicle’s engine to add percussive zing to a stark, skittering track titled “De Aqui No Sales.”
It was a remarkable visual; this is an artist who knows how to make an impression. And since releasing her debut album, Los Ángeles, in 2017, Rosalía has impressed pretty much everybody. First came laudatory articles in Spain which hailed her for “revolutionizing” and “reinterpreting” flamenco. Then the Latin Recording Academy, faced with the tough task of assessing and ranking art created across the entire Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking diaspora, nominated Rosalía for Best New Artist, which appears to be the first such honor this decade for a Spanish singer working in the flamenco tradition.
And the singer’s ripples of impact kept spreading outward — “revolution” is an eternally alluring concept, not least because it suggests that knowledge of the source material is no longer a prerequisite for fandom. Rosalía even attracted attention from the English-language press, which rarely engages with Spanish-language music, and is especially unlikely to engage with that music if it’s not a heavily-streamed genre like reggaeton or trap.
Rosalía’s new album, El Mal Querer, is less rigorous than its predecessor, though even easier to like. Los Ángeles adhered closely to the structures of flamenco, with careful guidance from the producer Raul Refree. El Mal Querer drifts more freely, demanding less understanding of a specific musical tradition, thanks in part to production from Pablo Díaz-Reixa, whom English listeners may know for the albums he released under the name El Guincho.
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So as Rosalía sings staunch, trembling lines about jealousy and rapture and romantic torment, there are riptides of festival-ready electronic bass in “Pienso En Tu Mira” and decaying lines of pitch-shifted vocals in “De Aqui No Sales” — along with that vrooming motor, screeching car-brakes and shrieking sirens. This one is primed to shred a club: During the song’s second half, Rosalía introduces a ghost of a four-on-the-floor kick drum and changes her singing style so her voice becomes yet another form of percussion. A few songs later, on “Di Mi Nombre,” a beat of claps and kicks suggests that Rosalía has made a flamenco-flecked cousin to Lumidee’s “Never Leave You (Uh Oh).”
The song sure to attract the most attention Stateside is “Bagdad,” for the simple reason that it riffs on Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River” before leaping into pretty choral interplay. It’s a knowing track — aware that more people are ready to tune in and hungry to pique their interest. Like the stunt with the ATV, and the album as a whole, it’s also extremely effective.