Album Review: J. Zunz – Hibiscus

J.Zunz, the alias of Lorelle Meets The Obsolete‘s Lorena Quintanilla, released her debut album Silente in 2017, which melded fuzzy-or erstwhile intricate- guitars with textural synths. Since then, Lorelle Meets The Obsolete put out the highly praised De Facto in 2019, with it’s superb collision of swirling electronic manipulation and the duo’s guitar frenzies. As much as Lorelle… has been responsible for some of the most sonically adventurous psych experimentalism of recent times, Quintanilla’s own audiological worlds- new album Hibiscus especially- are just as innovative.

Although J. Zunz’s new album Hibiscus contains characteristics of De Facto’s woozy noise it also leans even further into a trance-y realm, as impressionably Quintanilla’s own sonic imprint as possible. Despite initially aiming to be a ‘stripped down’ scheme for Lorena, and while there is certainly a detectable ‘less is more’ impression, the general sound remains full, emotionally affecting; anything but skeletal. Overtime exemplifies this, with Lorena’s serene vocals and thoughtful words amid a beautifully minimalist arrangement.

The enduring cohesion and enjoyment of Hibiscus can be attributed, at least partly, to it’s hypnotic aural repetition throughout; creating a vibrant delirium for the ears. Over the seamlessly morphing eight tracks, Hibiscus truly encloses the listener in a singular sphere, the album’s central thematic current of intense resilience. There is minimalism mingling with massive walls of maximalism. There is an accountable lightness, if tinged with melancholy, interspersed with shrouds of fervid mystique and gritty determination. All this sharp yet mulit-faceted antithesis feeds into an album which feels, as Lorena says, “…strong and fearless”, “everything I wasn’t at that moment”.

Jupiter sees a suitably formidable monolith of cyclical, theremin-sounding drone. With the addition of the wailing, near unhinged vocals, this creates a gripping tension similar indicated by the title. Here, the stuttering drone rises like a dervish and then withers away similarly, as the spectral remnants of one’s vulnerability.

Four Women and Darkness conjures vivid imagery in it’s circular synth, insistently rising throughout, and lyrical breadcrumbs. Lorena also creates a vast, chasmic, almost glacial wall of sound with the electronics here, as they whirl like gales. This isn’t completely overwhelming in it’s magnitude, instead being subtly ominous; entirely captivating. The vocals too, are manipulated to lend the tracks another dimension, becoming a dynamic instrument in itself. As with Lorelle…, Lorena’s vocals are striking, but here they become another entity altogether; the breathy echo giving a bewitching aura. On fourth track 33-33, the vocals are increasingly fervent and intrusive into the psyche (in the best way). Lorena’s lyrics of “empty thoughts, broken” are piercing in her unique delivery, and the repeated “Anyhow” extracts multitudes of emotion from each varied vocal.

J. Zunz (Lorena Quintanilla)

This cathartic vocal converges with the thematical sense J. Zunz gave to Hibiscus, of an inherently unshakeable perseverance, written “during a personal crisis inside and a political crisis outside”, “…sleepless nights filled with overwhelming thoughts and feelings”. This is also accordant with Lorena’s hope for Hibiscus not “to sound vulnerable”, as it never feels lachrymose, but instead conveys chasmic, ambient eeriness besides this intense catharsis. The aforementioned 33-33 is one of the record’s distinct highlights and delivers this catharsis further into it’s four minutes. Swathes of noisome samples cut across the mix, while regular tambourine percussion sits underneath. The bass-y bounce of the central synth arrangement, along with Lorena’s enigmatic vocals, make this a sonic spectacle as a surging march which pulls the listener further into a blissful stupor.

Penultimate track America is a Continent builds to enormous ebbs and flows of blaring, dirges. However, even with this aggression, the abrasive drone wields an impossibly trance-inducing effect; aided by the subtly noxious waves of maracas-like percussion.

The chopping, abrasive electronica is at times, upon closer Ouve-Me, reminiscent of ‘Japanoise’ legend Merzbow. However, J. Zunz’s articulated weighing of this and the synth lines’ intrinsic loveliness ensures that she furrows a complex musical statement of her own. These rather diametrically opposed components are just one example of the antithesis Hibiscus presents so exceptionally. Ouve-Me, utilising the distorted drone effect against the mesmeric synth, makes for a tranquil yet surreally affecting end.

Through the incredibly euphoric use of repetition, which grows more addictive rather than becoming wearisome, and layered electronics, Hibiscus is a record warranting countless listens.

Released 21st August on Rocket Recordings. Watch the intensely cerebral video for Four Women and Darkness below. Listen to the first J. Zunz album, Silente, here, or pre-order Hibsicus on ‘Exotic Swirl’ vinyl, here.

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