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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

For her third album, Angélica Garcia adds her first language: Spanish



Angélica Garcia in Los Angeles, April 30, 2024. Her third album, “Gemelo” (“Twin”), is a largely electronic exploration of all kinds of dualities, with songs of angels and demons, grief and healing, dreams and realities. (Elizabeth Weinberg/The New York Times)

By Jon Pareles


“My blood speaks Spanish to me,” Angélica Garcia sang in “Red Moon Rising,” a track on her 2016 debut album, “Medicine for Birds.” Garcia, who was born in California, was living in Virginia; the album leaned toward indie-rock and Americana. But the lyric turned out to be prophetic.


She was thinking about the legacy of her maternal grandparents, who are from Mexico and El Salvador, and the musical heritage her parents maintained. Garcia’s second album, “Cha Cha Palace,” delved further into what it meant to be a Chicana growing up bicultural in the San Gabriel Valley — a quintessentially American experience, yet a very individual one. “Been wearing my roots and flying this flag,” she sang in “Jícama,” which former President Barack Obama listed among his favorite songs of 2019.


“One day I showed my grandmother ‘Cha Cha Palace,’” Garcia, 30, said in a video interview from the kitchen of her apartment in Los Angeles. “And I realized I’d made this whole record about growing up in El Monte, and she didn’t even understand it. It just hit me that I’m missing a whole side of my culture and people because of the language I’m choosing to write in.”


Garcia’s new album, “Gemelo” (“Twin”), out Friday, expands on both her bloodlines and her ambitions, and features lyrics in Spanish. True to its title, its songs are full of dualities: angels and demons, grief and healing, dreams and realities, mirror images. The album opens with a somber chorale titled “Reflexiones” (“Reflections”), while in “Gemini,”Garcia sings, “I see double everywhere I go.”


The music is largely electronic, unleashing the directness of Garcia’s voice — sometimes ghostly and airborne, sometimes a near-scream — amid programming, loops and layering. There are moments that hint at Kate Bush, Bjork, MIA and Santigold.


Garcia grew up speaking Spanish at home with her grandparents, but said she lost it “once I got into the public school system.”


“Honestly, I think the most punk thing I ever did was write in Spanish as a Chicana,” she added. “There were all kinds of feelings from everybody. Some people were like, ‘Your Spanish is really bad, don’t do this, it’s embarrassing.’ And then you have other people like, ‘Screw Spanish, it’s the language of the colonizer,’ yada yada yada.”


But, she explained, “I just realized that this is something I want to do. With any music I make from now on, I’m going to be writing in both languages — or all three if you count Spanglish as its own language.”


For Garcia, each has its own mood and musicality. “To me, English feels like a sword fight,” she said. “It’s very cutting and sharp and quick. Whereas Spanish feels like there’s just this poetry to it. You stroll around something to get to it. Or you’re sitting in front of a window on a rainy day writing. And then Spanglish feels like a party.”


“Cha Cha Palace” was released in 2020, and Garcia was mid-tour when the pandemic set in. “Gemelo” got its start amid pandemic isolation and introspection.


“I was putting a lot of work and intention into understanding where I came from and where my family came from,” Garcia said. “I remember keeping all these journals like a madwoman, brainstorming and putting everything on the wall and trying to connect everything. I was trying to understand what things, what qualities of theirs that I maybe carried, like nature versus nurture. What is ingrained in me? And what is all mine?”


One of the first songs she came up with was “Juanita”; it arrived, she said, like “a gift.” It’s an electronic cumbia — a bedrock Latin American rhythm — with lyrics about a mystical encounter: “You made me wake up/ Your voice the sound of stars,” Garcia sings. Only after she wrote it did she learn that one of her great-grandmothers was named Juanita.


The indie scene in Richmond, Virginia, gave Garcia the room to try different styles and experiment; she was playing in five bands at once while she was making “Cha Cha Palace.” She moved in with her grandparents when the pandemic set in, and then to Brooklyn, where she spent a year and a half before returning to Los Angeles early this year.


Garcia was already in touch with Carlos Arévalo, the guitarist for the eclectic, retro-tinged Los Angeles band Chicano Batman. He had discovered her music among prospective opening acts for a 2020 tour that was canceled by COVID. In 2021, she began sending him songs in progress; he suggested ideas and possible producers. Eventually, she convinced him to produce the album himself — his first album production.


“I knew this was a pivotal record for her in her career,” Arévalo said via video interview from a Chicano Batman tour stop in Oklahoma City. “She wanted the world to really see for the first time who she was on her terms, not what the label thought she should be and not what her community thought she should be.”


“Gemelo” doesn’t aim for dance-floor simplicity; nor does it latch onto the world-conquering pop beat of reggaeton. It’s an album of introspection and catharsis, about what Garcia calls “cycles of grief.” Garcia concocts her own beats, often irregular ones, and she revels in dynamic contrasts, from quiet and dulcet to explosive.


As she was writing the songs, Garcia said, “there were things that had me in my room crying, very low points. First it’s just the grief, right? But then you get up and try to voice it and you get excited when you hear, ‘Oh, but with that bass line, it sounds really cool.’ It’s kind of the coolest superpower ever that musicians have,” she added. “We can take something that really could debilitate so many people and make it into something else — a whole other experience.”


In “Color de Dolor” (“Color of Pain”), she sings about drawing inspiration from sorrows: “Even though I will never sever the tie with my pains / I paint them full of colors,” she vows. And in “El Que” (“He That),” she confronts a figure who undermines her, who “Makes cold, robs energy, controls, bewitches,” with a crescendo building as she warns, “Don’t follow me with your shadow — I have my light!”


For Garcia, music has always been “the one place where I could say exactly what I thought,” she said. “My whole life, I’ve just tried to follow where the music was calling me.”


She smiled and pointed to her head. “It’s very loud in here.”

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