1) La Nueva Rebelión rocks harder than most rock bands. I apologize for writing that. I intended to broaden the canon and poke a stick into rockist eyes, but instead I ended up using “rock” as a verb.
2) Why do we still do that? Is rock music still central to anything? Why doesn’t anyone say rockers “out-norteño most norteño bands” when they sing about vengeance and hardscrabble origins and that that don’t kill them making them stronger? For that matter, why don’t we say it of Kanye or Kelly? (“Norteño isn’t a verb!” shouts my Mom, but you know what I mean.) The usual suspects — “rockism,” privilege, most music writers not knowing Spanish — can’t explain why my “out-norteño” formulation feels so unlikely. Turning to norteño to make sense of other pop music? Unimaginable!
3) Look, certain segments of the critical population really want Arcade Fire to be a disco band, and I can well imagine some careless strawman critic saying they “out-disco most disco bands.” I can even imagine (I don’t have to imagine!) someone explaining an English-language song as “more K-pop than K-pop.” Disco and K-pop have both “rocked harder than most rock music” on occasion, but they’ve also opened themselves to pillage by other genres.
4) So if rock’s no longer central, if all these different genres are out there grabbing at one another, my question becomes: Why is norteño still so peripheral to the music crit corpus? The answer may be self-sustainability: musically and commercially, norteño bands are doing just fine, thanks, and they don’t need to make concessions to a mystified potential audience.
5) Yet here we have La Nueva Rebelión playing rock music, clearly and without ambiguity. Sure the song’s a waltz. Sure the lead instrument’s an accordion instead of a guitar, but listen to the sloppy virtuosity, the way accordion and bajo sexto don’t quite line up but still keep perfect time; or to those six-bar vocal glissandos over one pounded chord; or, for that matter, to the chord changes, which abandon norteño’s variations on I-IV-V polka patterns in favor of leaning on a flat 7 chord. The newest Rock Hall inductees use flat 7 a bunch.
6) The members of La Nueva Rebelión love to rock so they wrote their own rock song, and if they know how rock works they might also see that it’s a mouldering corpse. But here they are, making the rockist corpse — my corpse — dance with as much unpredictable lightning as I’ve heard this year. They’ve shoved a stick through my eye. It’s making me twitch with pleasure.