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2017 Albums: Guitarras de la Sierra

Never a company to let a good trend go uncompiled, the beneveolent Fonovisa corporation has recently released Guitarras de la Sierra, a collection of songs from young sierreño trios — two guitars, plus either a tuba or bass holding down the bottom end. Las guitarras have been rocking la Sierra forever — NorteñoBlog has previously delved into the career of Breaking Bad corrideros Los Cuates, for instance, and several older comps called Guitarras de la Sierra exist, featuring guys like Miguel y Miguel and various iterations of Los Alegres. The differences, in our brave new post-Ariel Camacho world, are threefold:

1. The lineup of guitars plus tubas, without an accordion or drums, now constitutes a reliable hitmaking combination, not just on the radio but online;

2. This means you’re gonna hear more romantic sierreño songs than you would have in previous generations; and,

3. Sierreño musicians are more likely not just to be young men — Los Cuates started playing when they were only 14, after all — but to sing like young men; and specifically, like young pop stars, rather than salt-of-the-earth gallos who grew up on the ranch. In other words, not just musical idols who appeal to teens, but bona fide Teen Idols.

To get a sense of what I’m talking about, compare Los Cuates’ first top 40 hit, “Me Haces Falta,” with a song from the latest Guitarras comp, Crecer Germán’s YouTube hit “Lo Que Te Amo.” Los Cuates’ hit, recorded in their mid-20s, marked a gradual departure from their guitar and bass lineup: Gabriel Berrelleza was playing an accordion by this point, and they’d recently replaced their bass with a tuba. “Me Haces” was a skippily bereft lost love single, but with its delamatory melody and I-IV-V chords, it could have been a corrido with different lyrics:

But there’s no mistaking the subject matter of Germán’s song. Even without having the lyrics in front of you, you can tell this is a young man deep in the shit of romantic bereftitude. We know this because something in his tone screams “teenager in love” — he strains for emotional affect without having the vocal chops to get there. Couple this with the wandering melody, the minor chords in the progression, the brief but keening melismas, and you’ve got the commercial face of sierreño guitars 2017:

Is that all there is to the style? Of course not. Germán first sang corridos and love songs with his former band Alta Consigna, and in an entertaining attempt to be puro raza or something, he’s released a “Deluxe Edition” of his snoozy romantic 2016 album Hombre Afortunado (Fonovisa). Besides “Lo Que Te Amo,” the expanded edition contains a whole bunch of tributes to real-life narcos: “El Chapo,” “El Ingeniero,” “Kikil Caro,” etc. Not surprisingly, these songs are a whole lot more fun than the first, original half of the album, which was all about love. They’re faster, the requinto-tuba interplay is swinging, and Germán’s immature singing is much better suited to flat yellow journalism than to florid purple poetry. If the expansion was available on its own, it’d be an easy VALE LA PENA. But what am I saying? It’s 2017. You have the internet. Make whatever Crecer Germán album you want.

No such qualifications are necessary for the VALE LA PENA fourth studio album from Jesús Ojeda y Sus Parientes, El Amigo de Todos (Fonovisa — all these albums are on Fonovisa). Ojeda currently has a radio hit with the ballad “No Es un Juego,” inluded on the Guitarras comp. Relevant to point 3 above, its video is partially set in a Mexican high school, depicting a romance between two fresh-faced hetero cuties; Ojeda and his rhythm guitarist are the only ones in the video wearing cowboy hats. Written by the ubiquitous Joss Favela, “Juego” is the slowest song on Ojeda’s album, which is otherwise the most fun you’ll have pretending to be in the Sierra this year.

Sierreño albums can suffer from the saminess of folk records — after all, there’s only three instruments and no drums, and chord selection tends to be limited. Ojeda and his Parientes get around this problem by speeding up and complicating their rhythms, and by adding some inspired high harmonies. As a lead guitarist, Ojeda seems to have read and digested the “Stubbornness and the Single Note” chapter of Ben Ratliff’s Every Song Ever — he comes out of choruses obsessively bearing down on one repeated note until it bleeds, no doubt goosing audiences into raging ecstasy. If the Parientes remind me of any folk trio, it’s prime Kingston Trio, just sheer musical pleasure from top to bottom. Here they are playing their Mini Lic corrido “El Piñata,” today’s Pick to Click. (The licks are anything but mini, amirite?)

Continue reading “2017 Albums: Guitarras de la Sierra”

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Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 9/11/17

ulices chaidez women

First things first: our friends in Mexico, especially southern Mexico and the Gulf coast, are dealing with the twin destructive forces of a magnitude 8.1 earthquake and Hurricane Katia. People have lost family, friends, and homes in the states of Oaxaca, Chiapas, Tabasco, and Veracruz. If you can swing it, this website has a list of organizations, including the Red Cross and UNICEF, that can use your cash to help people recover from the destruction. Remember, Mexico has sent all kinds of help to Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Now Mexico needs help; and since climate change doesn’t care whether we dig Tejano or huapango or (G-d save us) “Despacito,” now is a good time for us to practice dealing with its fallout. Climate change’s fallout, not “Despacito”‘s. Although feel free to help Puerto Rico out, too.

omar burgos delNow, on with the countdown! This past weekend in Chicago I was playing the radio game “ScanQuiz!”, where you hit “Scan” on the car radio and try to name each song you hear before the radio moves on to the next station. Besides being a superfun test of mettle, ScanQuiz! is also a good way to survey who’s broadly popular with radio listeners. Shawn Mendes and Imagine Dragons are always lurking somewhere. Led Zeppelin will never die. And tubist Omar Burgos, by virtue of playing with both versions of Los Plebes del Rancho and los Plebes de Ulices Chaidez, has created one of the most dominant instrumental sounds on Chicago radio. Scan for a half hour and you’re likely to hear a sierreño song, probably played by one of Burgos’s bands; but even if the tubist is someone else, his bandleader owes his popularity to Burgos’s late employer Ariel Camacho, whose own posthumous hits still pop up like White Walkers.

porque me enamoreBurgos and Chaidez are also doing well in Mexico, where this week their year-old song “Porque Me Enamore” ascends to #2. (In El Norte, the song is #1 at RegMex radio.) You can catch them in the very special video, both “recording” in the studio and offering support to a young lady at her chemo sessions. This is standard-issue sierreño prettiness, and not the most memorable example of the style, but you can see why it’s big. Chaidez sings with misty teenage sensitivity and just the hint of an edge to his voice, and Burgos propels the arrangement with an opening flourish, flutter tongue madness, cool little pendulumic swings into his notes — just an endless variety of ideas and effects, all of which enhance rather than disrupt the song. He’s got as much personality as any instrumentalist around. Teen music with inoffensive, cross-generational appeal — kind of like Shawn Mendes!

loco enamoradoBetter yet is the sierreño bass (not tuba) trio at #11. “Loco Enamorado” represents a new bandwagon leap for Remmy Valenzuela, whom the Blog has admired for his accordion chops and for the lovely rasp in his voice’s upper register. Here he’s playing rhythm guitar on a song about how crazy in love with you he is. Spare a listen for the lead requinto player, who executes a bunch of exciting flourishes that have inspired YouTube tutorials. (Spare also his name, if you know it, because I can’t figure out who the guy is.) I’d say Valenzuela’s voice alone would make any song worth hearing, but his NO VALE LA PENA followup banda single “Mi Amante” disproves that theory.  But in “Loco Enamorado,” his voice and some mean requinto picking sell an entirely decent romantic ballad that has the temerity to move back and forth between two different keys. Pick to Click!


Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 9/11/17”

Yo Quiero Tu Saxo (septiembre 2017)

la nueva onda nortena

enamorandoteIt is the longstanding position of NorteñoBlog that the puro sax styles of Chihuahua and Zacatecas would improve with the addition of more terrible “sax” puns in the titles. When last the Blog caught up with Chihuahuan quintet La Reunión Norteña, it was to approve of their febrero single “La Enorme Distancia.” That single does NOT appear on the band’s latest album, Enamorándote (Azteca); but true to the band’s name, La Reunión, like Grover, remains obsessed with issues of nearness and farness. Witness their latest single “Cuando Estoy Junto a Ti” (alternate title/band name: “La Reunión Saxual”), a charmingly guileless song of devotion; or previous single “Un Minuto Más”, a reference not to the band’s saxual stamina, but to their inability to let you go. (So, probably a reference to the band’s saxual stamina.) If anything, these guys are a little too consistent — I’d be hard pressed to tell those songs apart based on their music alone — but, like quiet storm, you don’t necessarily put puro sax music on to be distracted by it. NO VALE LA PENA

La-Nueva-Onda-Norteña-V-Hell-Yea-2017-500x500Except when you do. Las Vegas quintet/sextet La Nueva Onda Norteña markets itself as a “new wave” band, and the Blog’s job is to figure out what that means. Their fourth(?) album #Hell Yeah (Discos America) includes some tempo-shifting intros and outros, but to my ears they have two elements that are really ushering in the new wave. First, their mid-song shoutout is “Hell yeah,” a phrase they’ve claimed for their own through some judicious hashtagging. Second, everyone in the rhythm section plays like they want to be noticed, adding to even more interesting counterpoint than this genre’s typical sax/accordion twinings.

Cases in point: the straightforward proposition “Quiero Hacerte El Amor” (alt. title “#Quiero Sax You Up”), with its prominent slapdash drum fills; or “Que Te Cuesta” (aka “#Saxo Por Dinero”), which manages to slip into some thunderous grooves without ever losing its momentum. Leadoff song “Mi Castigo” (or “#Tortura Saxual”), a cover of synth-saturated Grupo Ladron, sets the tone: love is expensive, love is torture, but our chops are badass and our good taste will pull us through. On cursory listen I’m ready to recommend the whole thing, but I’ll Pick to Click their cover of Caifanes’ “No Dejes Que,” simply because it sums up their ethos so well. VALE LA PENA

Continue reading “Yo Quiero Tu Saxo (septiembre 2017)”

La Gran Purga (Desfile de Éxitos 9/2/17)

t3r elemento

It would become known as the Great Purge of 2017. A complex cultural exchange, once teeming with diverse reflections of the human experience, suddenly found itself ruled by a simplistic dictator. Well, ok, not strictly a “dictator” — after all, the people bestowed upon this ruler unprecedented power. But what began as novelty soon turned to tedium, then oppression, as one by one anyone who didn’t resemble our fearless leader began to vanish. To explain away those who disappeared, there was always a reasonable enough excuse. They promoted violence rather than unity. They were part of the old order; there was no room for them in our new, more streamlined era. If they refused to conform to the new paradigm, more supple individuals could easily be found to take their places.

And THAT, amigos, is how we went from having 17 regional Mexican songs on Billboard‘s Hot Latin chart six weeks ago, to only eight-count-’em-eight this week.

17 was already low, but 8/50 is the lowest portion in NorteñoBlog’s almost three-year history. When I started following this particular desfile, eight out of the top 25 was on the low side. The culprit, I’ve hypothesized, is One Song To Rule Them All “Despacito,” which, due to its unprecedented bigness, is sweeping along other songs that have the good fortune to sound like “Despacito.” Sooner or later, once we impeach “Despacito” from its perilous perch, I predict some of the fine radio hits on the Regional Mexican chart will make their way back to Hot Latin, to leaven the eternal boot-stomp of the club bangers.

Hits like…

tal-como-eresLuis Coronel’s mid-tempo puppy-dog banda ballad “Tal Como Eres,” at #20 RegMex airplay, which, in typical Coronel fashion, exalts a woman whose boot he does not feel competent to lick, this time swiping a keening hook from Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face.” (“Can’t read my, can’t read myyyy…”) Thing is, this usually undistinguished singer has never keened so well, and the brass arrangement is overstuffed with flourishes of its own. You could argue Coronel pioneered the current wave of norteño teen idols, but this is the first time I’ve wondered whether I might enjoy a new Luis Coronel album. VALE LA PENA

Roberto Tapia - Vamos A Darnos Un TiempoEven better is #27, the breakup banda “Vamos a Darnos un Tiempo” by blog favorite Roberto Tapia, who sounds great whether he’s doing backbeat banda pop or more neo-trad waltzes. “Vamos” falls squarely into the latter category, and the guitar-laced horn charts are chunky and violent, blat against blat, the better to depict the emotional violence wreaked by the narrator and his mujer upon one another. Although, when Tapia sails into his upper register to mourn the good times, you never doubt that he at least wants to regret leaving her. Pick to Click!

corona de rosasSince NorteñoBlog has been NorteñoSlacking these past few weeks, a second Pick to Click is in order. At #38 we find two more teen idols, this time from the DEL Records stable of unquestionably well-treated and unexploited performers: Kevin Ortiz, the middling younger brother of Gerardo, and sierreño guitar hotshot Ulices Chaidez. They’re dueting on “Corona de Rosas,” a country-ish story song. A young muchacho leaves the farm to seek his fortune. When he returns home wearing his new, fancy clothes, he finds his padre has died, buried beneath the titular corona. That’s the whole song — but in that simplicity lies all the complexity of the immigration narrative, echoing the apostle Luke’s Prodigal Son story, and even chased with a bit of “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” The guitar/horn rhythms of the enhanced sierreño band pull off the same simple/complex trick. Kevin’s best song yet:

Also interesting:
Continue reading “La Gran Purga (Desfile de Éxitos 9/2/17)”

More Women and Mariachi, Less “Despacito” on Mexican Radio

aliciavillarealNorteñoBlog’s summer doldrums continue on the U.S. Hot Latin chart, where there’s only one regional Mexican song in the top 25 — [Casey Kasem voice:] at #23, here’s Gerardo Ortiz with the worst song from his new album! [/Casey Kasem voice] — and only 11 in the entire top 50. This is a historical anomaly. We’ve seen plenty of periods with more norteño and banda songs stuffed into the top 25: witness this chart from 2016, with 13 such singles, and who can forget the mid-’90s Tejano boom? Plenty of people can, but that’s not the point. The point is, why now?

Old dude’s hypothesis: it’s the internet’s fault. [Casey Kasem shakes fist at sky: “Millennials! You’re not reaching for the stars!”] The Hot Latin chart bakes in three different methods of song consumption, weighted according to a top secret algorithm. Regional Mexican music still gets plenty of airplay, leading to a fair number of hat acts among the diverse entries on the Latin Airplay chart. It’s the other two factors — digital sales and online streaming — where norteño and banda acts are struggling to keep pace.

bastaNorteñoBlog’s theory, unsupported by data because I don’t have it, is that the unprecedented popularity of “Despacito” is benefitting songs that sound like “Despacito,” and those songs’ streaming numbers are overwhelming the songs that don’t sound like “Despacito.” With three billion views, “Despacito” is now the most-watched video in YouTube history, and that’s just the version without Bieber. Videos and songs that follow it on streaming services are like sitcoms that followed Friends in the ’90s — automatic ratings contenders. CNCO, “Mi Gente,” “Felices Los 4” are all getting chart boosts because they’re dembow-ish bangers, often with international crossover appeal, that get recommended by YouTube or appear with “Despacito” on Spotify playlists. No matter how many norteño fans stream Calibre 50’s lite beer jingle “Las Ultras” or the latest Banda MS ballad, regional Mexican songs simply can’t keep up.

Prediction: This too shall pass. Eventually, the popularity of “Despacito” will fade. (Judging by the two-year chart run of “Propuesta Indecente,” that could take a while.) Once that happens, we’ll see more regional Mexican songs back on the big U.S. chart. If not, NorteñoBlog promises to have an existential crisis.

¡Jajaja! Just kidding. Not when there’s still cool shit happening on the Mexican radio. This week the Mexican radio chart sees two overlapping boomlets: three songs led by women (I know that doesn’t seem like much, but trust me, around here it’s refreshing) and three mariachi songs.

Alicia Villarreal - Haz Lo Que QuierasCovering both bases are Alicia Villarreal, formerly of Grupo Límite and solo cumbia radness, and Ángela Aguilar singing a duet with her dad Pepe. Villarreal is singing an original high-drama number called “Haz Lo Que Quieras,” produced like much of her work by her husband, former Kumbia King Cruz Martínez.

tu sangre en mi cuerpoBracing stuff; but since I tend to take my schmaltz stirred rather than shaken, I prefer the Aguilars’ “Tu Sangre En Mi Cuerpo,” a frankly cloying remake of… someone’s parent-kid duet that I will someday request at my daughter’s wedding reception. [Casey Kasem voice: “Their relationship quickly became strained.”] (Note: the song’s authors are Jose Luis Ortega Castro, Thelma Ines De La Caridad Castaneda Pino, and Yessica Sandoval Pineda; just not sure who did the original version.) Like Vicente Fernandez’s “Estos Celos,” this tune hits all my smooth mariachi buttons: soaring voices and strings milking high notes for maximum emotion while the chugging beat makes them sound like they’re tossing off everything — notes, burdens, hats, whatever. It’s the sound of a breeze blowing wispy clouds across a flat blue sky. Pepe’s career is long and distinguished, but Angela has been a real revelation this year, with a warm and inviting voice that reminds me of Gloria Estefan’s. Their last duet, the big smart cumbia “Nada de Nada”, earned the Blog’s affection, and this one carries on the legacy. Pick to Click!

Continue reading “More Women and Mariachi, Less “Despacito” on Mexican Radio”

¡Ay Bandito! “Despacito” steals norteño’s chart thunder (Desfile de Éxitos 7/22/17)

despacito

Big news from Billboard is that our official Latin emissary to the pop world, the “Despacito” of Fonsi, Yankee, & Bieber (LLC), has a new notch to add to its chart belt.

siggno despacitoIt was already the first Spanish #1 single since “Macarena.” Now it’s the first non-English song to top the all around Radio Songs chart… ever. Or at least since that particular chart began in 1990. Back in 1996, “Macarena” only reached #6 on the radio. Los Lobos’ cover of “La Bamba” topped radio airplay back in 1987, but that was a different time with different algorithms that only took into account Top 40 radio. “Despacito” is topping both Top 40 and Latin radio, and the song’s coattails are spreading. (Watch for “Despacito”-themed Segway tours to sweep Puerto Rico.) Down at #31 on the Regional Mexican airplay chart, you’ll find the mascaraed-and-tattooed norteño softies Siggno playing their own cover version of “Despacito,” while rocking Metallica and Misfits t-shirts in the video. Guess whose version NorteñoBlog prefers:

Unfortunately, Siggno seems to be the only norteño act lifted by the rising tide of “Despacito” drool. Take a look at that Hot Latin chart below. Normally you’d see a couple norteño or banda songs in the top 10; the top 25 often contains ten to twelve regional Mexican acts. Now the top 16 songs are all reggaeton, bachata, or Shakira, a genre unto herself, with the first Mexican acts only sneaking in from #17-21. (Some comfort: there are 12 more of our guys — and they’re all guys — in the bottom 25.)

Billboard notes that Fonsi’s “Despacito” is not only swamping both Top 40 and Latin airplay, it’s selling and streaming the pants off every other Spanish-language song you care to name. This works out well for other, similar sounding songs. When you play “Despacito” on YouTube, the video channel helpfully chases it with another variation on “Despacito”‘s dembow rhythm — for instance, CNCO’s “Reggaeton Lento,” Maluma’s “Felices los 4,” or Shakira’s “Chantaje,” in whose video Shakira goes HAM by walking a pig through a convenience store. All those ancillary streams give their songs a chart boost. “Despacito” is never followed by Christian Nodal‘s gorgeous mariachi-pop “Adios Amor,” which hung out in the Hot Latin top 10 for the first half of the year, or any other regional Mexican song. This is one way the club sound reinforces itself.

ulices-chaidez-albumAlso worth noting in the above-linked article: halfway through 2017, there’s only one regional Mexican album in the cumulative Latin top 10, and it comes not from perennial album seller Gerardo Ortiz, whose very good Comeré Callado Vol. 1 seems to be stiffing. Rather, this year’s biggest Mexican album is the (not quite as good) 2016 album from teen sierreño sensations Ulices Chaidez y Sus Plebes. Under Billboard‘s current album accounting methods, Chaidez’s “album sales” have risen thanks to online streams of his hit ballad “Te Regalo,” which peaked at #12 and charted for half a year.

hoy mas fuerteOrtiz could use his own big single to boost his Equivalent Album Units, but right now his lame sierreño pop “Para Que Lastimarme” is falling from a #15 peak. It’s looking more like Ortiz’s 2015 album Hoy Más Fuerte was, in fact, his New Jersey: “a huge event album that ultimately feels a bit hollow and signals a career decline” (at least in commercial terms). This is something NorteñoBlog totally called; although in fairness, if it proves untrue, I probably won’t retract it. I’ll be sure to consult my journalistic ethics team.

In short, regional Mexican music seems to be going through some summer doldrums, a period of relative unpopularity compared to other Spanish-language music. Its central star, Ortiz, is using a hot sound, sierreño, but his new music is struggling to catch on. Nodal, the singer of the format’s biggest 2017 hit, has yet to release an album. The popularity of “Despacito” is benefitting other songs with more club-oriented electro rhythms. And I haven’t even mentioned that our biggest norteño song, Calibre 50‘s “Las Ultras” (#17 Hot Latin, #1 airplay), is a beer jingle. For light beer. Plenty of blame to go around.

recordandoOne bright spot comes from Ortiz and his friends/labelmates Lenin Ramirez and Jesus Chairez: down at #26 on the airplay chart we find the three of them singing Chariez’s corrido “Recordando a Manuel.” It’s a spritely guitar-and-banda memorial to the late narco José Manuel Torres Félix, who was killed in 2012. Some sympathy for the devil, please — according to the song, he was a simple country man who only turned to a life of crime when mobsters killed his kids, at which point “el demonio” got him. Regardless of real-life circumstances, the song is stunning. I prefer Ortiz’s small band version on Comeré Callado, which features some jaw-dropping accordion and tuba interplay, but on the single you can enjoy three different guys harmonizing in honor of a reputed psychopath. And the guitar still sounds great! Pick to Click:

Continue reading “¡Ay Bandito! “Despacito” steals norteño’s chart thunder (Desfile de Éxitos 7/22/17)”

Los Sencillos Mejores De 2017 (enero – junio)

retonos de tijuana

NorteñoBlog has heard your clamorous cries, and brings you a YouTube playlist of
NORTEÑOBLOG´S TOP SINGLES OF 2017
(Spotify playlists are here and here.)

valentin-elizalde1. “Volveré a Amar” – Calibre 50 (Fonovisa)
Swanky midtempo heartache with backbeat, doo-wop tuba, and Eden Muñoz doing his best low-range impression of the late Valentín Elizalde. From the VALE LA PENA album Tributo a Valentín Elizalde (Fonovisa).
U.S. radio hit
2. “El Paciente” – Alfredo Olivas
Endlessly appealing, rippling deathbed banda, including a shoutout to the mythic Catarino, a corrido legend who fought in the Revolution and healed his wounds with his own saliva.
U.S. and Mexican radio hit
3. “Huapango El Pisteador” – Conjunto Águila Real
With a few changes in timbre, this could pass for a British folk-prog instrumental from the early ’70s. Other points in its favor: the rad sections where the accordion plays lightning fast triplets over the slower sax melody, and a dramatic ending on what they call in music school the “James Bond chord.”
hasn’t charted
nueva rebelion4. “La Gorrita” – La Nueva Rebelión (Puro Party)
This is still a band trying desperately to pull as much music as possible from their poor instruments. “La Gorrita” is a good example: six verses following the titular beanie-wearing dude from cartel hub to hub, each verse played differently, with unpredictable fills and accents jumping at you like faces in a crowd. From the VALE LA PENA 2016 album La Gorrita y Que Suene La Rebe.
hasn’t charted
comere callado5. “Recordando a Manuel” – Lenin Ramirez ft. Gerardo Ortiz and Jesus Chairez (DEL)
Banda corrido that invites flabbergasting instrumental flourishes, covered on Ortiz’s VALE LA PENA album Comeré Callado Vol. 1.
hasn’t charted
6. “Mi Son” – Azierto Norte
Another galloping 6/8 instrumental with tricky internal rhythms and those rarest of all beasts: bajo sexto solos.
hasn’t charted
7. “Nada de Nada (Vete a la Fregada)” – Pepe Aguilar ft. Ángela Aguilar (Equinoccio)
An impressive band workout, with tuba and percussion burbling along like synth polyrhythms and the horns draping sweeping melodic lines over everything. Also, both singers undersell the song, making it one of banda music’s rare Big Smart Cumbias.
Mexican radio hit
no estas tu8. “Adios” – Jose Manuel Figueroa (Fonovisa)
More bouncy backbeat banda, with a tuba bassline groove that balances out the pretty melody and keeps it from turning maudlin, even as Figueroa sings about losing precious bodily fluids through his tear ducts and saliva glands. From the VALE LA PENA album No Estás Tú.
Mexican radio hit
9. “Escuela 6-1” – Adriel Favela (Gerencia 360)
Contains badass bajo sexto riffs.
hasn’t charted
el jerry10. “Te Deseo Lo Mejor” – Gerardo Coronel (Rancho Humilde)
A breezy sierreño kiss-off in which Coronel offers to teach his ex’s new pendejo “la forma correcta” to make love to her. His series of video tutorials is forthcoming. From the VALE LA PENA album El Jerry.
hasn’t charted

11. “Adios Amor” – Christian Nodal
Leading off Fonovisa’s new Mexillennials comp is this slow stunner, unfolding into an endless three-minute series of baubles and trinkets, sparkles and flashes, soars and swoops.
U.S. and Mexican radio hit
12. “No Es Tan Fácil” – Impacto Sinaloense (Anval)
The beat lurches like the best of Calibre 50, and the band is tight while still finding pockets for individual flourishes of radness.
Mexican radio hit
13. “Asi es el Muchacho” – Los Retoños de Tijuana
hasn’t charted
14. “El de la Kush” – Diferente Nivel (Twiins)
hasn’t charted
15. “Gente de Accionar” – Grupo Codiciado (Rancho Humilde)
Supertight galloping waltz where the big shot narrator brags about how great his life is.
U.S. radio hit
EL FANTASMA16. “Mi 45” – El Fantasma (AfinArte)
El Fantasma’s narrator is somehow involved in the Sinaloa Cartel. He’s still firm with El Chapo’s sons Ivan and Alfredito, whose Instagram personas out-smarm the Trump brothers’. He may be hiding out in the wilderness with his 45, biding his time or doomsday prepping. International man of mystery! From the VALE LA PENA 2016 album Equipo Armado.
U.S. radio and viral hit
17. “El Pasito Perrón” – Grupo Dinastia Mendoza (Filser)
Chintzy electrocumbia depicting a dancing sensation that utterly failed to sweep the nation, until someone uploaded a video of a toy baby Jesus dancing to it. This was of course hilarious, especially the heaps of background stinkeye given by a wary shopkeeper, and it became a meme: you can now find “Pasito Perrón” videos featuring everyone from Winnie the Pooh to his orange honey-chasing doppelganger Donald Trump. A bunch of stormtroopers even performed the dance on Britain’s Got Talent, and Simon changed his facial expression at least twice.
U.S. viral hit
18. “No Vuelvas a Llamarme” – Joss Favela (Sony Latin)
The interplay between accordion and rhythm section is on point and, whaddya know, the words — about how Favela’s always too busy to take your calls — are funny.
Mexican radio hit
19. “Eres” – Costumbre (Revilla/Azteca)
Intocablish, with harmonies.
hasn’t charted
20. “Los Viejitos” – Marco Flores y La Jerez (MF)
Aren’t the dancing fake old men supposed to be funny?
Mexican radio hit

AND NOW FOR SOME THEORIZING:
If you’ve hung around NorteñoBlog for any length of time, at some point I’ve backed you into a corner, eyes burning with laserlike and possibly alcohol-fueled focus, and tried to convince you of one or more of the following propositions:

1. Plants are alive, man; and furthermore, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts are all varieties of the same mustard species, and when you plant them the seeds all look like mustard seeds;
2. The best Christmas movie is Eyes Wide Shut;
3. Regional Mexican music is pop music, dammit!

The first two are objective facts and require no further explanation. But I fear I’ve never been clear on what I mean by #3. Continue reading “Los Sencillos Mejores De 2017 (enero – junio)”

Yo Quiero Tu… ¿Huapango? (junio 2017)

conjunto atardecer

definitivamenteIt is the longstanding position of NorteñoBlog that the puro sax styles of Chihuahua and Zacatecas would improve with the addition of more terrible “sax” puns in the titles. Out in the west Texas town of El Paso we find the brand new group H Norteña, whose debut album Definitivamente (alternate title: Definición de Saxo) is just out on the tiny Regiomex label. Back when duranguense was a thing, lead singer Heraclio “Lako” Cepeda fronted the duranguense outfit Conjunto Atardecer, which means he knows his way around saxes playing absurdly jaunty riffage over unrelenting polka beats. Sometime before you die, check out Atardecer’s 2009 hit “Encontre,” as delightfully clattery and synth-stabby as any duranguense hit you care to name.

With members hailing from both Durango and Chihuahua, H Norteña slows down the tempo a few clicks for songs like the title single and “Amor Fantastico” (aka “Saxo Fantastico y Donde Encontrarlo”). NorteñoBlog is partial to their herky jerky folk dance medley “Popurri de Huapangos” because I enjoy subdividing 6/8 beats while contorting my body. Just a little trick I picked up from Dr. Alex Comfort M.D., D.Sc., Y.M.M.V.

Tired of huapango? Fed up with… merequetengue? Then by all means avoid “Mi Son” (suggested title: “Sonrisa Saxy”) by Azierto Norte. It’s another galloping 6/8 instrumental with tricky internal rhythms and those rarest of all beasts: bajo sexto solos. And whatever you do, stay away from San Luis Potosí natives Conjunto Águila Real and their dark “Huapango El Pisteador” (aka “Sax y Tequila”), which, with a few changes in timbre, could pass for a British folk-prog instrumental from the early ’70s. Other points in its favor: the rad sections where the accordion plays lightning fast triplets over the slower sax melody, and a dramatic ending on what they call in music school the “James Bond chord.” Pick to Click!

Continue reading “Yo Quiero Tu… ¿Huapango? (junio 2017)”

Who’s On the Mexican Radio? (starring José Manuel Figueroa, Bronco, y más)

ordenando

This week NorteñoBlog bids a fond Mexican chart farewell to Alfredo Olivas‘s “El Paciente.” It’s a rousing deathbed meditation and previous Pick to Click that’s still hitting on U.S. radio, where its rippling banda charts and soaring melody sound better every time I hear them. Plus — always worth noting — the song shouts out Revolutionary legend Catarino, who was able to heal his wounds with his own saliva. Sources tell me the new, top-secret Republican healthcare bill relies exclusively on this method of treatment.

BRONCO_B-696X852But fans of medical metaphors and in-song death need not worry: in its place we have “Doctor” by Bronco, a smooth, synth-led grupero throwback, written by one of the dudes from pop duo Río Roma. Its story is simple and disturbing. The self-medicating, anhedonic narrator visits his doctor asking for a heart transplant because he can no longer love. The doctor assures our narrator that no cure exists, and instead offers to kill him. The narrator accepts. This bleak indictment of Mexico’s public healthcare system has somehow slipped past censors and cracked the top 10 of the nation’s radio chart, no doubt thanks to the seductive powers of its soothing cumbia lilt. Seasons don’t fear the reaper. You can be like they are. Come on, baby.

michaJust ahead of the sickos in Bronco we find La Séptima Banda and their latest shot of banda pop cheer, “Se Defiende.” It’s the lead single from their new album Micha y Micha (Fonovisa), half new studio songs and half live corridos. It’s not as good or surprising as last year’s NONSTOP POP EXPLOSION A Todo Volumen, but it’ll still get you through a commute. “Se Defiende” gives you a good idea of the band’s trash compactor approach to brass charts: they cram a bunch of hooks into a small space, mercilessly squeeze the whole mess down to two and a half minutes, and produce a gleaming cube that’s somehow homogenous and finely detailed at once.

no estas tuAt #18 we find José Manuel Figueroa with “Adiós,” from one of 2017’s most enjoyable albums until it peters out at the end, No Estás Tú (Fonovisa). Figueroa shares his given name and a talent for composing and producing with his father, the late Joan Sebastian. Also like padre, Figueroa doesn’t strictly adhere to any one style; he writes what amount to catchy country-pop songs, and on this album he mostly sets them to expert banda arrangements, though sometimes guitar, piano, and strings pop up. (On 2013’s “Rosas y Espinas” he dabbled with synths, which sounded cool and fit right in.) If you know NorteñoBlog at all, you know I’m a sucker for bandas that play bouncy backbeat pop, so “Adiós” is right up the Blog’s alley. The tuba bassline groove balances out the pretty melody and keeps it from turning maudlin, even as Figueroa sings about losing precious bodily fluids through his tear ducts and saliva glands. Maybe that’s how his voice got so scratchy. Pick to Click!

Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? (starring José Manuel Figueroa, Bronco, y más)”

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