2019 was huge for eclectic singer/songwriters, and you needn’t look much further than Luis Mojica’s breakthrough album How a Stranger Is Made to hear some of the best the year had to offer. For those who haven’t heard his music before, Luis Mojica brings new meaning to eclecticism in contemporary pop/rock inside of his work, and How a Stranger Is Made is perhaps his most powerful work thus far. We start off with the ebbtide of rhythm that besets every striking melody in “Insane” before oozing through the jazz anxieties of a super-experimental “Shaman Food,” blistering poetry delivered by a soft lead vocal in “Invoked” and joint piano passion found in “Moon Men,” “Cowboys” and the cryptic “De La Saint.” “Witch Love” separates the singing from the slithering instrumentation only to lead us into a crisp interlude in “City Friends” that is both stirring in tone and yet quite stoic in style, and although the trio of “The Ranger,” “Queen Song” and “Stranger Song” finishes us off with more of an emotional punch than we find at the start of the LP, the finality of their sonic statements doesn’t make it any easier for us to resist playing the whole album on repeat every now and again.
Beyond the lyricism that How a Stranger Is Made has to offer all who check it out this season, the eleven songs on this record definitely form what amounts to being one of the most engaging piano-based pieces I’ve heard in a really long time. In “Cowboys” and “Invoked,” the keys have a story to tell us completely independent from the one Mojica is imparting to us from behind the mic, and though he more frequently places value on tonality over efficiency among these compositions, it works shockingly well for how black and white some of the tempos in this LP had the potential to be.
The mix has a few rough edges that could have been smoothed out before dropping the album in stores, but I’m not totally convinced that this wasn’t intentional. There’s definitely an added emotional depth that comes with leaving a harmony like the one in “City Friends” unchecked and unvarnished, and while it might not win Mojica any extra airplay this summer, I don’t get the feeling that he’s the type of artist who would care. He’s involved with this medium for himself, which takes a lot more integrity than simply being out to make a buck does.
Those who live for music made by players who think outside of the box cannot afford to miss out on what Luis Mojica has produced in How a Stranger Is Made, as I personally think that it’s one of the most poetic and inspired records of its kind from a New York underground artist to make waves on the national stage in the last couple of years. He’s still got some elements that he could improve on in future recordings, but for the time being, I would tell this musician to get back into the studio sooner than later. He’s got a momentum he needs to capitalize on while it’s hot, and I can’t wait to hear what it’s going to yield.
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