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Lo Mejor De 2017

Yo Quiero Tu… ¿Grammy?

ramon ayala grammy

The Grammy category with the weirdest name — Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano) — is especially bizarre this year.

It is the longstanding position of NorteñoBlog that the Grammys have no idea what to do with Mexican music, especially norteño. This shouldn’t be the case. As Chris Willman reported last year, every Grammy genre, including Latin, has a “blue ribbon panel” of 15-18 industry insiders tasked with whittling long lists of vote-getting albums into the final lists of nominees. These panels are diverse groups of music professionals, which may explain why the nominees for Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano) tend to reward repeat winners’ often middling work, or tastefully dull ranchera albums nobody heard. The industry professionals who nominate Grammys want to reward music that reflects their industry’s professionalism. El Komander probably doesn’t fit the bill.

Usually the results resemble the overall Album of the Year category in 1994, when Tony Bennett’s Unplugged beat out The Three Tenors in Concert 1994, Eric Clapton’s blues tribute From the Cradle, Bonnie Raitt’s 3rd straight AOTY nom, Longing in Their Hearts, and Seal’s 2nd album. Those nominees were so lame they sparked a “revolt” and reforms, partly because they completely omitted Hole’s Live Through This.(!)

aida cuevasSo this year the Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano) category includes a couple such expected nominees: a pretty good album by a perennial nominee, Banda El Recodo’s Ayer y Hoy (Fonovisa) — like happy families, all Band El Recodo albums are alike — and the boring “unplugged” Arrieros Somos — Sesiones Acusticas (Cuevas), by ranchera legend Aida Cuevas, whose far livelier Juan Gabriel tribute album missed the cutoff date. But then, the category takes a turn for the strange.

ni diabloThe man with the continent’s best voice, Julión Álvarez, is nominated for Ni Diablo Ni Santo (Fonovisa). In a typical year, you’d shrug. But not this year! That’s because Julión Álvarez, like certain terrorists and North Korean businesses, is SANCTIONED by the U.S. Treasury, meaning his assets are blocked and Americans can’t do business with him. He’s vanished from streaming services and he can’t tour El Norte. Listening to his illegally uploaded, mostly romantic, Grammy nominated album on YouTube is now an ACT OF POLITICAL RESISTANCE, or something. (It’s OK, not his best.) #FreeJulionAlvarez!

alex campos momentosThe other solo male nominee, Alex Campos, isn’t even Mexican! He’s a Colombian singer who wins Dove Awards and Latin Grammys for Christian music. (Here he is in 2012, singing “Dios Es Pederoso” with Hillsong Global Project Español.) His album Momentos (Sony) is a Christian mariachi album. Granted, it’s way more entertaining than Christian Nodal’s surprisingly un-nominated “mariacheño” debut, but also way less representative of the genre — not to mention less good than Alicia Villarreal’s ranchera pop La Villarreal.

zapateando en el norteAnd finally, there’s Azteca Records’ multi-artist compilation Zapateando en el Norte, the most bizarre nominee of all. It’s a compilation of puro sax bands from Chihuahua and Zacatecas, a longstanding interest of the Blog’s readership. Puro sax is a wonderful norteño subgenre all its own. Bands play bouncy sax/accordion polkas and sing often bereft, emo lyrics, and their popularity is impervious to larger regional Mexican trends.

Puro sax bands also play a lot of huapangos, largely instrumental tunes that contrast triple and duple rhythms — they’re all in fast 6/8 time — and are used for Mexican folk dancing. (“Zapateados,” these dances are called more generally; you stomp your feet a lot.) Huapangos make for spritely mid-album or mid-set novelties. As the Blog discovered last summer, more and more online playlists of huapangos have been appearing, so Azteca owner Humberto Novoa had his bands cut a bunch of huapangos for this comp.

Now remember, whoever nominates Mexican albums seems pretty oblivious to factors like hipness, relevance, and commercial performance. We can argue all day about whether that’s a good thing or not; for the Grammys in general, it’s a core existential issue. Anyway, this year, Azteca’s flagship puro sax band, the twice-nominated La Maquinaria Norteña, who stand astride the puro sax genre like Saxophone Colossi, missed the eligibility date with their own album, Por Obvias Razones. So in a sense, this album occupies their spot…

… which means the fifth nominee for Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano) is a compilation of a subgenre (huapangos) of a subgenre (puro sax) of a subgenre (norteño) of an industry format (regional Mexican). (Including Tejano.)

It’d be like the Best Rap Album nomination going to a compilation of Southern rap Mama songs, or something. Which, btw, the Blog would totally endorse.

But this is where the blue ribbon panel’s haplessness pays off! Give or take the Banda El Recodo album, Zapateando en el Norte is the best thing in this category. It’s a nonstop zapateado fiesta, with sax and accordion banging out their riffs over amazingly capable rhythm sections. I’d vote for it, anyway. Although if Gerardo Ortiz had been nominated as he should have been, it’d be a different story.

Oh yeah, one more bit of Grammy hilarity. Guess which subgenre goes completely unrepresented among these Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano) nominees? As it has every year since the category’s 2012 inception?

TEJANO.

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¡Feliz 2018! (y ¡Lo Mejor de 2017!)

gerardo_ortiz_ganador_premios_tu_mundo_2017-1

¡Feliz año nuevo! NorteñoBlog leaps into the future resolved to do several things better:

1. Drink a cup of tea before drinking alcohol;
2. Figure out why the kids love Luis Coronel and his immaculately-coiffed-and-voiced teen idol ilk;
3. Keep up the Blog’s Spotify playlist, the 2017 version of which you can shuffle here:
https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/joshlanghoff/playlist/3NFlYGVzaKnkRWtXJfOVee

You can read about many of those songs on the Tercer Aniversario post and its accompanying links. While you’re shuffling, here are the Blog’s Top 10 albums of the year:

reyes de la quebradita1. Various Artists – Reyes de la Quebradita (Sony Latin)

A crucial compilation of last decade’s electro-banda novelty style. This album is one laugh-a-minute banger after another, and — as Friend of the Blog Leonel points out — the back story of many of these songs would make for a fascinating deep history.

comere callado2. Gerardo Ortiz – Comeré Callado Vol. 1 (DEL/Sony)
NorteñoBlog’s Artist of the Year, following the proud footsteps of El Komander in 2016 and Marco Flores in 2015, takes the surest hop of all his peers aboard the sierreño bandwagon. By adding stripped down guitar music to his normal red-hot norteño, Ortiz amps up his musical variety, and the contrasts are thrilling — check out his solo version of “Recordando a Manuel,” which I apparently can’t stop embedding.

3. Jesús Ojeda y Sus Parientes – El Amigo de Todos (Fonovisa)

The straight-up sierreño album of the year gooses its narcocorridos with wild backup vocals and feverish repeated-note guitar solos.

no estas tu4. José Manuel Figueroa – No Estás Tú (Fonovisa)
A second-generation songwriting legend makes the year’s best banda pop album, with inventive arrangements dressing up wildly catchy tunes.

valentin-elizalde5. Various Artists – Tributo a Valentín Elizalde (Fonovisa)
This multi-artist tribute to the late banda pop pioneer is consistently lively and catchy, only occasionally falling into the multi-artist tribute trap of paying polite respect. All of Elizande’s swoony, swanky charisma is intact.

los players6. Los Player’s de Tuzantla – De Parranda Con Jorge Garcia (Los Player’s de Tuzantla)
Fast, cheap, and barely in-control synthpolkas and cumbias from the southern state of Michoacán.

la villarreal7. Alicia Villarreal – La Villarreal (Universal Mexico)
The Tejano veteran makes an album of ornate ranchera pop, at its strutting best reminding me of Yolanda Perez’s great genre mashups from a decade ago.

8. Alta Consigna – No Te Pido Mucho (Rancho Humilde)
Sierreño in which bass and tuba are seemingly at war with one another, laced with dry, slashing guitar tones. First half is slow, second half is fast; guess which half the Blog prefers. Shuffle it!

La-Nueva-Onda-Norteña-V-Hell-Yea-2017-500x5009. La Nueva Onda Norteña – #Hell Yeah (Discos America)

Vegas puro sax band seeks to co-opt the phrase “Hell yeah,” cover Caifanes, and play with unflagging energy and verve. At the very least you have to admire the attempt.

10. Revolver Cannabis – La Ruleta Sigue Girando (DEL/Sony)
With Gerardo Ortiz gone on genre excursion, his labelmates pick up the slack in the straight-up accordion norteño department. It’s a typically lurching (if samey) affair.

And while you examine those, here are the most clicked articles from the Blog’s busiest year:
Continue reading “¡Feliz 2018! (y ¡Lo Mejor de 2017!)”

Fiesta Tercer Aniversario: LOS PICKS TO CLICK

alfredo olivas wary

Welcome to NorteñoBlog’s fourth year! As I survey the previous twelve months of radness, several themes emerge:

fantasmaSierreño is no longer a novelty. The guitar + tuba-or-bass style is now as prevalent as its country cousins, banda and accordion-based norteño. Although the style has existed for decades, you can trace its popularity back to the 2015 death of young singer-guitarist Ariel Camacho, which cemented sierreño as both young people’s music and a vehicle for pop hits. Two Camacho-related bands — Los Plebes del Rancho de Ariel Camacho and Ulices Chaidez y Sus Plebes — appear below, as do established norteño/banda stars Gerardo Ortiz and Remmy Valenzuela, jumping on the sierreño bandwagon with corridos and romantic ballads. One of the year’s biggest breakout stars, man-myth-legend El Fantasma, scored a long charting hit with the guitar corrido “Mi 45,” in the process becoming one of California’s most streamed Latin artists.

comere calladoGerardo Ortiz continues to dominate. You wouldn’t know it by looking at his album sales, but artistically, nobody in the genre had a better 2017. His sierreño-biting Comeré Callado album was a rebound from 2015’s disappointing Hoy Más Fuerte, with better songs and typically stunning band interplay. He was also featured on excellent norteño and bachata singles (see below), and notably did not release any videos showing him murdering women. I only accomplished one of those things.

La-Nueva-Onda-Norteña-V-Hell-Yea-2017-500x500Like Civil War reenactments and teen slasher movies, puro sax music will never die. The jaunty norteño subgenre, whose songs definitely do not all sound the same, continues to do several things well. It’s an excellent accompaniment to doing chores. Like freestyle, it pits bouncy uptempo music against bereft emo lyrics, to the benefit of both. And it pulls all kinds of other stuff — notably the huapango folk dance and alt-rockers Caifanes (see below) — into its deranged but happy orbit.

christian-nodalI wish I liked mariacheño and socially conscious corridos more than I do. Christian Nodal released an excellent, career-defining debut single, “Adios Amor,” and then followed it up with a boring but well-reviewed mariachi album. Calibre 50 released a heartfelt sigh of an immigration story, “Corrido de Juanito,” that meant a lot to some very smart people. Given the choice, though, I’d rather listen to the parade of reprehensible narcocorridos scattered below. Bands like La Nueva Rebelión draw swaggering energy from their illicit subject matter, turning narco music into a thrilling and paradoxically life-affirming force. Not that musicians can’t walk and chew gum at once — last year especially,
El Komander succeeded with both kinds of stories.

la villarrealWhere are all the women? I’m sorry to say, this is one area where the Blog seems to be getting worse, not better, and I’m not sure if it’s my fault or the industry’s. This year the Blog enjoyed singles by Alicia Villarreal (her album La Villarreal is way better mariachi pop than Nodal’s), Lucero, Diana Reyes, and Chiquis Rivera, but didn’t Pick to Click them, simply because there was better stuff those particular weeks. The latest countrified album from blog fave Laura Denisse was more of a chore than her last one, although it may be growing on me (and I just saw she has a Christmas album! Must research…). Los Horóscopos have been MIA lately. As Victoria ‘La Mala’ has pointed out, Mexican regional music remains a man’s world — the sheer amount of music produced by men overwhelms that of the women. That said, the year’s most exciting new voice belonged to Ángela Aguliar, who showed rich confidence on two wonderful duets with her father Pepe. (See below.)

Anyway, here they are: the past year’s worth of Picks to Click. Thanks for reading, and happy listening!

11/17/16: “Que Perrón” by La Séptima Banda
A big dumb cumbia ode to the modern world’s sexually assertive mujeres. As you might expect, such mujeres make La Séptima Banda very happy, especially the dude in the middle of the song who sheepishly admits, “I’m ugly.”

12/2/16: “Traigo Ganas de Pistiar” by Escuela de Rancho, Los Orejones de la Sierra, y La Bandeña
It scarcely matters what the song “Traigo Ganas” is about. I mean, I know it’s about getting drunk — the song opens with the sound of cans being cracked open, and anyway, I’m sure you’ve met low brass players — but what matters is the stupendous way this makeshift octo-quin-trio makes you feel all giddy and swivelly by jumping from one part of the song to the next.
Continue reading “Fiesta Tercer Aniversario: LOS PICKS TO CLICK”

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)”

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