When NorteñoBlog last caught up with Remex Records, the YouTube telenovela factory that fronts as a powerhouse indie label, its star Edwin Luna had just begun floating trial balloons for a coup solo career. Flaring his nostrils with serious artistic intent, Luna had recently begun separating his name from that of his banda, La Trakalosa de Monterrey, and… acting in their 20-minute music videos. Surely before long they’d separate? Amid rancor and acrimony? Two competing bandas criss-crossing the continent with increasingly side-eyed arrangements of “Mi Padrino El Diablo”?

Thankfully we’re not there yet. Singer and banda are still united and scoring bi-national hits as Edwin Luna y La Trakalosa, with a thriving production company — Editraka — that hosts fitness classes. (Their “flared nostril burpees” are killers.) But Luna is also experimenting with some solo tunes of his own. Rest assured they are terrible.

edwin-luna-amor“Es Tiempo de Amar” is his bid for a big unifying national pop ballad. The video has Mexicans of every age singing about love and brighter tomorrows, some lavish hand gestures, inspiring words on pieces of cardboard (more Love Actually than “Subterranean Homesick Blues”), and a closing quote from Madre Teresa de Calcutta. (You were expecting maybe Sor Juana?) There’s nothing norteño about it, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if Luna knew how to sing non-norteño songs with any semblance of a personality. There’s also nothing topical about it, unless you hear the line “Es tiempo de… recuperar lo perdido” as a call for the Mexican government to fix the country’s kidnapping problem, along the lines of Intocable‘s “Día 730.” But, as we’ve seen recently, governments have enough trouble reacting to even overwhelming gestures of dissent. Subtlety in this case is NO VALE LA PENA.

What’s that? Hawaiian noises? Even lower on the sufferability gauge is Luna’s “Como la Luna y el Sol,” featuring his main squeeze, the actor and director Alma Cero. It’s a polite Jack Johnson skank about how the two lovebirds want to rotate in one another’s lives like the sun and moon; which means their love is, if not eternal, at least pre-Copernican. They don’t even have any decent “heavenly bodies” puns to bail out this piece of crap. What they do have is a lovely vacation video from Hawaii, featuring paddleboards and Alma Cero miraculously managing to lounge on a bed of lava rocks without slicing up her fancy dress. Recommended if you don’t automatically scroll past friends’ Facebook videos. Otherwise, NO VALE LA PENA.

Fortunately for Remex, they’ve also got singer-songwriter Lalo Ayala and his band Latente. Like Luna and their record label, Ayala hails from the city of Monterrey, Nuevo León, and in 2011 he gave Calibre 50 one of their earliest hits: “El Tierno Se Fue” (“No More Mr. Nice Guy,” approximately). It’s an extremely smarmy love ballad about how singer Eden Muñoz likes it rough, with cell phone photos. In Billboard, Leila Cobo said the lyric and video “border on soft porn.” Reached for comment, soft porn proposed erecting a border wall full of glory holes.

latenteWhere were we? Oh right — Ayala and Latente’s recent output has been more chaste and Intocablish. On new midtempo cumbias like “No lo Sé, Piénsalo,” a love song that probably isn’t actually about Google stalking, and “Esto Es Lo Que Hay,” one of the few pop songs about dieting, they sound refreshingly unique. Also good is 2016’s “Que Vuelva,” a more typical romantic tune that crescendos from Intocable lope to a finale of energetic drum fills. Latente is a tight quintet, able to hone in on seemingly any rhythm in an instant. VALE LA PENA

cuatro-rosasEqually tight, because it’s a duranguense band that’s used to playing at the speed of light, is Grupo Montéz de Durango. A decade ago Montéz was so huge my local discoteca proprietor showered me with free promo swag when I bought the band’s live DVD. That discoteca is now long gone, and so is the selling power of the Montéz name, but they’re still releasing listenable electroacoustic work on Remex. “Cuatro Rosas” is a midtempo cumbia, while “Cómo Quieren Que la Olvide” sounds and looks like old times, only slower: a synth-horn polka version of a Fato song, set in a video full of Chicago tourist scenery. I think singing plaintively by the Bean is some kind of visual pun on “reflecting”? Truth be told, these guys have never been the Blog’s favorite duranguense act — that’d be Diana Reyes, or Alacranes Musical, or the mysterious Banda Lamento Show — but it’s nice to have ’em back on a label that people might actually hear. VALE LA PENA