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Lo Mejor De 2015

Lo Mejor de 2015: Julión “El Rey de Spotify” Álvarez and Banda Cuisillos

julion_lo_mas_escuchado

alvarez compBillboard tells us Julión Álvarez — the man with the continent’s best voice and the proud Instructor De Amor behind a brand new greatest hits compilation, Lecciones Para El Corazón (Disa) — was Spotify’s most streamed artist in Mexico this past year. As two more jewels in his gilded professorial crown, Lecciones and El Aferrado (Fonovisa) were the most streamed albums in Mexico, followed by albums from the Weeknd, Major Lazer, and — look at that! — Natalia LaFourcade, whose Hasta La Raíz NorteñoBlog called “fun in an arty go-go boots way.” (Maybe I should listen to it again.) (And stop using clothes metaphors.) Continue reading “Lo Mejor de 2015: Julión “El Rey de Spotify” Álvarez and Banda Cuisillos”

Lo Mejor de 2015: Banda Costado, Grupo Cañaveral, and some Mexicats

jenny canaveral

The countdown continues to regions not often heard…

Foregoing such musical niceties as Chordal Harmony or Being Able To Tell The Songs Apart, the percussion-heavy southern septet Banda Costado reels off one minor-key violin melody after another on their album Chilenas de Oaxaca (Talento). Fiddle and singers work in counterpoint, with the tuba diving into the rhythmic arsenal — which, if you pay attention to it, sounds nearly as complex as the stuff avant-jazz legend Henry Threadgill has been playing with his tuba-inclusive band Zooid. Banda Costado is samier and less metrically ambiguous than Zooid; but to Costado’s credit, they sing and joke around more.

Turn of the millennium cumbiaderos Grupo Cañaveral have lately invited the trans-Atlantic pop band Jenny and the Mexicats onstage to sing their decade-old hit “Tiene Espinas el Rosal” (Fonovisa), about roses having thorns and whatnot. Jenny sings lead and takes a trumpet solo while the two bands groove toward infinity.

Lo Mejor de 2015: Gerardo Ortiz and Pancho Uresti

uresti

Time to run down the year-end lists! Today, an album and two singles from the “Eh, good enough” end of the spectrum:

Who doesn’t love a Sony blockbuster? Lots of people, actually. Hoy Más Fuerte (Del/Sony), the latest album from norteño’s biggest star Gerardo Ortiz, is too long — 21 songs plus five bonus versions — and it comes up shorter on memorable tunes than Ortiz’s 2013 breakthrough Archivos de Mi Vida. And yet… you throw enough money at talented people and they’re bound to have at least one good idea. The best investments here were the session work of accordionist Marito Aguilar, who brings something amazing to every song he plays, and the horn charts, which are consistently better than they had to be. (See the giddy chromatic hilarity of the banda’s take on “El Amigo”.) If you could abide the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie thanks to Johnny Depp’s acting and some well-staged action sequences, you might make it through this album. That Ortiz is even thinking in terms of norteño blockbusters might be his greatest legacy.

Pancho Uresti, the unassuming singer for Banda Tierra Sagrada, wiled his way onto two of 2015’s most iconic singles. “Adicto a la Tristeza” (Remex) is a camp masterpiece by the prolific songwriter Erika Vidrio, in which Uresti wallows with Trakalosa’s Edwin Luna in a big old vat of tears and liquor. Collecting himself for “Debajo del Sombrero”, Uresti joins Leandro Ríos to petition an unsympathetic father and win the hand of his hija, in the process singing a string of “-ero” rhymes that’ll reverberate through Spanish 101 classrooms for years to come.

pancho urestiRemex has compiled both songs along with some other Uresti, both solo and duets, onto A Lo Grande, a decent album that’s not as spectacular as I’d unreasonably hoped.

Lo Mejor de 2015: Maquinaria Norteña and Laura Denisse

laura denisse horse

la-maquinaria-norteña-ya-dime-adiós[2]Back in September, NorteñoBlog gave short shrift to the eighth (I think) album by La Maquinaria Norteña, Ya Dime Adiós (Azteca/Fonovisa). I thought they were energetic but generic, low on hooks, just one damn sax-and-accordion polka after another. How short was my shrift? My shrift was short enough that it could have been any random Maquinaria song, which tend to run out of steam after about two and a half minutes — with the notable exception of “No Sé Cómo Hacerlo,” which beefs its running time to three and a half minutes by throwing in a snippet of Super Mario Brothers music at the end.

And right there, amid Koji Kondo’s well-known arpeggios, lies everything I got wrong about Maquinaria in the first place. These guys know their subgenre — the puro sax music of Zacatecas and Chihuahua — is a little ridiculous. They know that when a sax and an accordion harmonize over polka beats, the results sound like skippy video game music. To counter this, they wink at their Super Mario-loving audience but, more importantly, they never let up. Maquinaria might not be the hardest working band in the puro sax game, but they sure sound like they are. They’re wilder and grittier than most of their peers. The lead instruments tug against the beat more and leave fewer empty spaces, and at the end of those 150 seconds of pleasure, everyone sounds spent.

Maquinaria Norteña: Su saxo está breve, pero es VALE LA PENA. Continue reading “Lo Mejor de 2015: Maquinaria Norteña and Laura Denisse”

Fiesta de Aniversario: THE PICKS TO CLICK

gerardo birthday

NorteñoBlog doesn’t always Pick to Click, but when I do… sometimes I get it wrong and type “Click to Pick.” This made searching for the previous year’s worth of Picks INTERESANTE.

The Pick to Click began as a shameless ripoff from Charles Pierce’s must-read liberal politics blog at Esquire, as did a couple other, possibly subtler NorteñoBlog tics. (Spot them all! Both! Whatever!) It’s a useful way to highlight the song I enjoy the most in a particular post, so that you the loyal reader don’t have to wade through a pool of Banda MS’s tears to reach the good stuff. Of course, if you enjoy the delectable bouquet wafting from Banda MS’s tears, you can always Click what I don’t Pick, though you’ll run the risk of turning Banda MS happy and then they might run out of Art. Besides current singles, the following list includes some older singles and current album tracks.

Most Picked at three apiece: NorteñoBlog’s probable artists of the year Alfredo Ríos “El Komander” and Marco Flores y #1 Banda Jerez. Banda Cuisillos, Noel Torres, and Chuy Lizárraga each scored two Picks. So did Los Gfez, Pancho Uresti, and Ariel Camacho, though one Pick from each of those three was in a “featured” role. Besides norteño and banda, the list includes cumbias and puro sax stomps, reggaeton and ABBA-schlager, Jenny and the Mexicats and Pitbull, and covers of Johnny Cash and — first up — Shania Twain. Happy Clicking!
Continue reading “Fiesta de Aniversario: THE PICKS TO CLICK”

NorteñoBlog’s Top Singles of 2015: Julio – Septiembre

marco flores

UPDATED YOUTUBE PLAYLIST HERE

Three months ago on our Top Singles list, NorteñoBlog was concerned about a lack of chart hits and puro sax music. Worry no more! There’s a bit less variety on this list than before, in part because I devoted the month of agosto to a project that prevented me from trawling for indie singles. (More on that project soon.) But the states of California, Chihuahua, Texas, Tijuana, and Zacatecas all represent below, along with ever-present Sinaloa.

(First quarter singles are here; second quarter singles are here.)

1. Marco A. Flores y Su Numero Uno Banda Jerez“Amor de la Vida Alegre” (Garmex)
Mexican radio hit
Flores, who also made NorteñoBlog’s favorite single six months ago, is like the Ramones with better beats, Rae Sremmurd if they were fast, early Madonna with a better voice. He makes termite art of the most gnawing and forward-thinking sort. He spends half this song crowing over just drums and tuba.


Continue reading “NorteñoBlog’s Top Singles of 2015: Julio – Septiembre”

NorteñoBlog’s Top Singles of 2015: Abril – Junio

cuisillos

This quarter’s list contains fewer radio hits than last quarter’s — only four out of 11 — but don’t worry! Both radio and Youtube continue to inundate us with all kinds of great music under the banner of “regional Mexican.” Below we’ve got cumbia from the underrepresented state of Nayarit, violin-driven dance music from the underrepresented state of Oaxaca, a brass banda from Jalisco who dresses in indigenous garb and doesn’t play corridos but sometimes plays piano pop, Linda Ronstadt-style pop country from Nuevo León, Chicago’s hometown heroines Los Horóscopos hitting Mexican radio and giving everybody cuernos, aaaaand (as usual) a whole lotta Sinaloa. NorteñoBlog has apparently been sleeping on the states of Chihuahua and Zacatecas, though, as I’ve dug up zero hot new singles to represent their puro sax styles. Better luck next quarter!

1. Banda Cohuich“Son Kora Kau Te Te Kai Nie Ni (Dialecto Huichol)” (Pegasus)
Huichol is an indigenous Mexican language, and “Son Kora” is a relentless jerking propulsion machine with brass, gang vocals, and a slippery synth line (I think).
hasn’t charted

2. Laura Denisse“Sigo Enamorada” (Fonovisa)
Denisse has a big clear voice in the vein of Linda Ronstadt, and she’s been singing a mix of banda and pop since she was a kid in the ’90s. The big brass riff here is simply a series of repeated notes, but the players articulate and syncopate like swaggering jazz cowboys.
hasn’t charted

3. Ariel Camacho y Los Plebes Del Rancho“Te Metiste” (Del/Sony)
This gorgeous love song sounds just as strange and sparse as “El Karma” when it plays on the radio.
U.S. radio hit

4. Grupo El Reto ft. Alta Consigna“La Parranda Va a Empezar” (Gerencia 360/Sony)
This quartet belongs to la corriente escuela of corridistas who sing about corruption while their corrosive tubists imitate machine gun fire. Corre! The quartet Alta Consigna also has a tuba in the band, so you’ve got two tubists and a requinto (I think?) playing furiously over everything.
hasn’t charted

5. Banda Cuisillos“Cerveza” (Musart/Balboa)
This isn’t even my favorite Cuisillos song of 2015 — that’d be this swinging piano-driven non-single — but these Jaliscanos do indulge several of NorteñoBlog’s weaknesses: two different singers trying to outdo one another in the passion department, brass alternating with guitar, and deplorable sexism.
Mexican radio hit

6. Leandro Ríos ft. Pancho Uresti“Debajo Del Sombrero” (Remex)
This not-so-humble ranchera ballad takes as much pleasure in the act of rhyming as any random song by Sondheim. Although, going through my Spanish rudiments, I’m disappointed the song doesn’t take place in enero, and why doesn’t our heroic caballero own a perro?
U.S. and Mexican radio hit

7. Banda Costado – “Pinotepa” (Talento)
This is a way different sound than we usually enjoy here: lots of percussion, tuba bassline, wild violin, and singers. Many independent lines and very little chordal harmony, in other words.
hasn’t charted

8. Banda Culiacancito“Lastima de Cuerpo” (Del/Sony)
If you’ve read this blog long enough, you know one of my favorite musical effects is rapid fire barrages of syllables that never seem to end and make me feel totally inadequate about my grasp of español. Prolific songwriters Geovani Cabrera (Regulo Caro, Calibre 50) y Horacio Palencia (todos) deliver. Knock yourself out with a trombone slide!
hasn’t charted

9. Los Gfez“Hasta Tu Dedo Gordito” (Remex)
I implore you not to google images of dedos gorditos unless you get off on toe injuries. No judging. I should mention that the quartet Los Gfez, last seen joining Diego Herrera on a likable Mexican hit, start their search for the mystery dedo fast and, through the magic of time changes, find a way to get faster.
hasn’t charted

10. Noel Torres“No Andan Cazando Venados” (Gerencia 360/Sony)
Torres’s arrangement of “Venados” sounds like he’s adapting Ariel Camacho’s unusual instrumentation. He takes stripped down passages of requinto guitar solos over lurching tuba, the same dynamic you find in Camacho’s repertoire, and alternates them with full banda sections. Horns replace rhythm guitar. The result is both serious and silly (ay, esos clarinetes), a fitting tribute that also fits with Torres’s swagger.
hasn’t charted

11. Los Horóscopos de Durango“Estoy Con Otro En La Cama”
Mexican radio hit

10 more good ones:

Miguel – “Coffee”
AB Soto – “Cha Cha Bitch”
Sam Hunt – “House Party”
Markus Feehily – “Love Is a Drug”
Honey Cocaine – “Sundae”
Chemical Brothers ft. Q-Tip – “Go”
Brandon Flowers – “Can’t Deny My Love”
Haley Georgia – “Ridiculous”
Bobby Brackins ft. Zendaya and Jeremih – “My Jam”
Vanbot – “Seven”

NorteñoBlog’s Top Singles of 2015: Enero – Marzo

marco flores

As you listen to this Youtube playlist, imagine a Regional Mexican station that plays not just regional styles, but disco-fied international variations on those styles. Weirdly enough, the disco-mariachi songs here, while great, are far from the most danceable songs on the list. If you don’t believe me, check out the top video, where Marco Flores and his band create a barrage of anarchic polka moves, including Hiding Behind the Congas, for their banda-fied take on the Zacatecas state’s tamborazo music. Colmillo Norteño aren’t quite as terpsichorially ambitious with the waltz at #2, but they’ve still got moves.

You could call these the year’s best regional Mexican singles, but there’s a catch. “Regional Mexican” here includes Mexicans and non-Mexicans playing their takes on regional styles — norteño, banda, mariachi, and cumbia (not native to Mexico, but nation and format have embraced it), along with minor styles like Tejano, tierra caliente, and duranguense, if we’d found any. It doesn’t include Mexicans playing pop, although most of these songs register for listeners as pop songs. It also doesn’t include any Latinos playing reggaeton, bachata, or salsa, though NorteñoBlog broke that rule last year when Gerardo Ortiz released a full-throated bachata song.

Maybe not so weirdly, this list’s Venn diagram circle for “international interlopers” — Natalia Jiménez, Rocio Quiroz, Jenny and the Mexicats, and Shalia Dúrcal — overlaps perfectly with the circle for “women.” It’s not that women can’t make great music that’s puro Mexicano; after all, we’re observing the 20th anniversary of Selena’s death, the 10th anniversary of Yolanda Perez’s fantastic Esto Es Amor album, and also check out NorteñoBlog’s best of 2014 list. But in the recently dominant styles of norteño and banda, the male gaze and traditional, possibly smothering, notions of chivalry predominate. Women in song lyrics often have the upper hand over their hapless male counterparts — see the hilarious video for “Adicto a La Tristeza” — but the hapless males still make most of the music and money. Though she’s not on this list, check out América Sierra’s “Ponte Las Pilas” for a refreshing exception — she also wrote Ortiz’s latest single, “Perdoname” — and keep your eye on her this year. In the meantime…

1. Marco Flores y La Número 1 Banda Jerez“El Pajarito” (Remex)
We’ve admired before the vitality of Marco Flores‘s dance moves and his voice, a gallo-rific crow that cuts through anything in its path. His take on Espinoza Paz’s “El Pajarito” comes in versions both “sin censura” and, presumably, censura.
Mexican radio hit

2. Colmillo Norteño“La Plebona” (Remex)
A demented rapid-fire circus parade waltz — you like those, right?
U.S. radio hit

3. Natalia Jiménez“Quédate Con Ella” (Sony)
Spanish pop star Jiménez shoots for Mexican mariachi and, with the help of Venezuelan producer Motiff, winds up singing a marvelously square ABBA breakup ballad. She’s having more fun breaking up than she did when they were together. She’s Chiquitita with Fernando’s swagger.
Mexican and U.S. radio hit

4. Rocio Quiroz“La De La Paloma” (Ser)
A minor key stomp with its drums slightly off-kilter in that delicious cumbia manner. The guitar tone is like something out of ’80s new wave, and Argentine singer Quiroz sounds great spitting out heartache.
hasn’t charted

5. Alfredo Ríos El Komander“Fuga Pa’ Maza” (Twiins)
Alfredo Ríos El Komander (I guess that’s what we’re calling him now?) continues to fire off charming singles that sound like he wrote them on a napkin and recorded them in the back of the bar. This one makes the theme explicit. It’s a drinking song whose background crowd noises exist as much for their musical energy as their verisimilitude — note how the crowd abruptly shuts up mid-whoop at the end of the song, rather than fading into a jumble of congratulatory high-fives. “Mi vida es pura pura pura borrachera,” Ríos brags, his tuba and requinto (I think) players capering around the bar, spilling everyone’s drinks.
hasn’t charted

6. Grupo Cañaveral ft. Jenny and the Mexicats“Tiene Espinas el Rosal (En Vivo)” (Fonovisa)
Grupo Cañaveral De Humberto Pabón played one of their turn-of-the-millennium cumbias, “Tiene Espinas El Rosal,” in concert. They brought out the little Spanish/Mexican indie band Jenny and the Mexicats to sing it with them. It turns out I’m a sucker for both turn-of-the-millennium cumbias and Jenny and the Mexicats.
Mexican radio hit

7. Shalia Dúrcal“No Me Interesa” (EMI)
The Spanish singer’s latest blends Nashville guitar licks, ranchera horns, and electropulse into something that never peaks but is more compelling for it. Also check out “Has Sido Tú,” a tech-folk-ranchera stomper whose main riff is lifted directly from one of Slash’s solos in “Sweet Child o’ Mine.”
hasn’t charted

8. La Trakalosa de Monterrey ft. Pancho Uresti“Adicto a la Tristeza” (Remex)
It turns out Edwin Luna, lead singer of La Trakalosa de Monterrey, is very convincing portraying un “Adicto a la Tristeza.” It helps that his voice chimes like a throaty bell. Luna’s labelmate and guest singer, Pancho Uresti from Banda Tierra Sagrada, is somewhat less convincing because his voice is scratchy. When the woman in the video spurns his advances, he’ll feel nothing and should be able to pick up pretty easily with someone else. High camp.
Mexican and U.S. radio hit

9. Los Tigres Del Norte“Qué Tal Si Eres Tu” (Fonovisa)
This study in triplets — the musical figure, not the polyzygotic phenomenon — still sounds better every time I hear it. Any other late ’60s bands still going this strong?
Mexican and U.S. radio hit

10. Rosendo Robles“Alterado De Corazon” (Rosendo Robles)
A banda waltz of furious excitement and possibly sharp brass sections. Possibly tuned sharp, I should say, although the jagged horn rhythms certainly feel like whirling blades of death, the kind of things you’d contort your shoulders trying to avoid in the upper reaches of a video game.
hasn’t charted

11. La Maquinaria Norteña“Si Te Vuelvo a Ver” (Azteca)
A stomping country polka with some puro Chihuahua sax, by way of New Mexico. I want La Maquinaria Norteña’s logo on my windshield.
Mexican and U.S. radio hit

12. Mario “El Cachorro” Delgado“El Rancho” (Garmex)
A sad but swinging protest corrido using chicken farming as a parable about Mexican kidnapping violence, I think. The simple tune is appealing enough, but check out the interplay between bass, guitar, and requinto, alternately locking in together and tugging at the rhythm with passages of loose virtuosity.
hasn’t charted

13. Alfredo Rios El Komander“Malditas Ganas” (Twiins)
Tossed off kiss-off. The eternally loose Ríos sprechtstimmes and casually mentions “Soy De Rancho,” reminding the woman he can’t forget that nobody can forget him these days, either.
Mexican and U.S. radio hit

14. Diego Herrera ft. Los Gfez“Es Todo Un Placer” (Remex)
One of those norteño quartet-meets-banda mashups the NorteñoBlog loves.
Mexican radio hit

15. Remmy Valenzuela“Mi Princesa” (Fonovisa)
A dextrous accordion hero puts down his axe to sing a banda ballad with more authority than he’s ever sung before, enunciating to las estrellas. Has any guitar hero ever done so well with a guitar-free power ballad?
Mexican and U.S. radio hit

10 more good ones:

Miranda Lambert – “Little Red Wagon” (RCA Nashville)
Los Teke Teke – “Me Dite Duro” (Leo)
Nicki Minaj ft. Drake and Lil Wayne – “Truffle Butter” (Young Money/Cash Money/Republic)
Joey Bada$$ – “No. 99” (Cinematic/Relentless)
Sia – “Elastic Heart” (Monkey Puzzle/RCA)
Susanne Sundfør – “Delirious” (EMI Norway)
One Direction – “Night Changes” (Columbia)
Fetty Wap – “Trap Queen” (300)
Carrie Underwood – “Little Toy Guns” (Sony Nashville)
Victor Manuelle – “Que Suenen Los Tambores” (Sony)

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