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El Komander y Los Twiins: Hombres de Negocios

adolfo valenzuela

If you haven’t used up your monthly allotment of free articles over at Bloomberg Businessweek, NorteñoBlog encourages you to check out journalist David Peisner’s profile of El Komander, the Blog’s 2016 Artist of the Year, and Los Twiins, arguably the most influential producers in the genre and noted purveyors of Candy Everybody Wants. Warning: It has the clickbaity gringo-scandalizing headline “This Guy Made a Fortune Off Mexican Drug Ballads. Now He’s Selling Love Songs.” Second warning: That headline pretty much sums up the article. But within that framing, you get highlights like:

— Adolfo Valenzuela, one of Los Twiins, reminiscing about some of his adolescent banda gigs. “‘We used to play for Chalino,’ Adolfo says. ‘I remember him being always surrounded by mafia people. He’d hire us to play and be sitting the whole time, just drinking. Then he’d sing one song and go into the restroom to do cocaine or something.'”

— The “Star is Born” account of Komander’s audition for the Twiins. “‘My cousin was calling me saying, “I have somebody that works for me that comes from Sinaloa, that has no papers, and says he wants to do music,” ’ Omar [Valenzuela] recalls. ‘I told him, “Please don’t bother me. I’m busy.” ’ Eventually he relented and invited Ríos in to sing for him and his brother. ‘We were blown away,’ Omar says. ‘He’s not that much of a singer, but he was real. He writes whatever he feels about whatever was going on in Culiacán. Mexico at that time was really dangerous, as it is now, but you never heard people [singing] before about decapitating.'”

— This article also supports the contention, which I first heard from Sam Quinones when researching Ariel Camacho, that “movimiento alterado” has moved from being a proper, Twiins-associated brand into a more generic realm. “Alterado” corridos aren’t just the bloody decapitations found in songs like “Sanguinarios del M1.” They’re also the narrative-free corrido style we live these days — celebrations of wealth and glamor, often praising or impersonating real life cartel bosses by name. In this sense, Gerardo Ortiz‘s “Dámaso” could be a defining song of alterado movimiento, even though Ortiz recorded it after severing formal ties with Los Twiins.

los twiins snoop— Quinones and the Valenzuelas disagree as to whether this is a good thing. Quinones told me the alterado style is “a corruption of the corrido’s original intent,” which is to celebrate underdogs. But in the Bloomberg article, Adolfo says that’s the point. “’It’s not like before, when they were like, “I’m going to work hard like my parents,”’ Adolfo says. ‘This new generation has learned they can make more money, have luxuries, be bigger or better than their parents. They all love that feeling of power, which had never been felt before in Mexican music. Because before it was love and sadness. It was never about power.'”

Peisner sums things up with an excellent point: “It’s possible to see the alterado movement as a defiant howl from fans who’ve frequently felt marginalized, threatened, and even emasculated by the immigration debate on the U.S. side of the border and by the raging war on the other side.” So read the whole thing. If you faithfully follow Mexican music, you’ve probably read some of it in articles elsewhere: the capsule summary of Chalino’s career; Adolfo Valenzuela justifying his work by saying he’s just giving the people what they want; the comparisons to “gangsta rap”; the real life violence that’s killed musicians and their associates; the Mexican government haplessly demonizing narcocorridos. Peisner wrote the first ever regional Mexican article for this general interest publication, so he pretty much had to cover those bases, even though they hog the spotlight in story after story.

The Blog tends to side with Komander himself, who complains late in the article, “The term ‘narcocorrido’ bothers me. El Komander sings about horses, about cockfights.” But I still learned plenty, and besides all their musical virtues and ethical conundrums, the Valenzuela Twiins are among the most quotable interview subjects around.

VALE LA PENA

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Las Ironías de la Vida: Grupo Codiciado

grupo codiciado

BREAKING: Binational quintet Grupo Codiciado has changed its look. The fearsome fivesome sped onto the Billboard charts last year with “Gente de Accionar,” for NorteñoBlog’s dinero the most exciting debut hit in a year that also gave us “Mi 45” and “Adios Amor.” Propelled by rippling drums and spurts of accordion, “Gente” might also be the most exciting song with its overused four-chord progression since Urge Overkill’s “Sister Havana.” Here’s the Grupo playing the song back in 2015, when it was apparently so new Alilet Aragon had to read the lyrics off his phone:

Note the flashy matching suits, standard issue for corrido combos young and old. But now it’s 2018, and for their forthcoming album, No Lo Intenten en Casa, Codiciado seem to have blown their advance at Urban Outfitters:

no lo intenten

Not appearing on that tracklisting is Codiciado’s latest single, “Todo Nos Pasa Por Algo,” a song about getting, like, so high with los muchachos. “Todo Nos Pasa” is better than “Fire Up,” the latest hit ode to self-medication by T3R Elemento, because it’s faster and funnier. “Todo el tiempo la pasaba platicando que ironías de la vida,” sings Aragon — “We spent the whole time talking about the ironies of life.” Sounds about right. Pick to Click!

We’ve seen moves like these — flashy matching suits transformed into black urbanwear, tales of drug production into drug consumption — before. A decade ago California bands like Los Amos de Nuevo Leon went self-consciously hyphy, turning from their trad (if grisly) narcocorridos to faster, grosser party corridos. The Blog covered that whole movement in the article “Pronounced “Jai-Fi”: The Rise and Fall of Hyphy Norteño.” The members of Grupo Codiciado, in their late teens and early 20s, don’t identify as “hyphy,” and their new music hasn’t appreciably changed in style, but the visual impulse is the same.

Some enterprising hesher has uploaded the album in full before its official release. Notable songs include what I think is another single, “Miro Lo Que Otros No Miran,” a proud song about how the boys have worked hard for everything they’ve got; and “Yo Solo Me Entiendo,” one of the better corrido odes to DEL Records proprietor Angel Del Villar.

Could this mean indie rockers Grupo Codiciado are angling for major distribution on Del Villar’s roster? If he signs them, will he make them “expand from hardcore corridos and into radio-friendly romantic fare,” as Talento Uno CEO Gustavo Lopez promises to do with the similarly rockin’ Fuerza de Tijuana? Rewarding a talented band by destroying what people love about them? ¡Que irónico!

Christian Nodal y Calibre 50 en la Jukebox

corrido de juanito

La semana pasada, los dos #1 éxitos más recente en la U.S. radio, “Regional Mexican” edición, recibieron la alabanza y la oprobrio de la Singles Jukebox. Particularmente con “Corrido de Juanito” de Calibre 50, Rebecca Gowns y Stephen Eisermann escribieron historias de sus familias y vecinos; me hicieron sentir orgulloso de escribir con ellos para el sitio.

Además, ¡escucha a Sparx!

Escribí:

Christian Nodal ft. David Bisbal – “Probablemente”
In the grand tradition of “Somethin’ Stupid,” a young boot-flaunting star teams up with a respected singer who’s twice as old to score a second #1 hit, in which the singers depict a let’s-say-undefined romantic relationship. There are differences, though. In “Probablemente,” teenaged Christian Nodal sounds at least twice as old as David Bisbal; “Probablemente” also has more accordion; but whoever played guitar for Frank and Nancy got to strum something less stupid than straight 8th notes the whole time.
NO VALE LA PENA

Calibre 50 – “Corrido de Juanito”
Despite its #MexicanoHastaElTope kicker, Calibre 50’s latest immigration story sounds more defeated than immediate precursors like Adriel Favela’s “Me Llamo Juan” (everyman comes to the U.S., struggles through poverty and odd jobs, starts successful company) or Calibre’s own “El Inmigrante” (everyman comes to the U.S., suffers various humiliations, starts successful string of “-ado” rhymes). It also sounds more defeated than Sparx’s chipper Clinton/Zedillo-era ranchera murder ballad, but we’ll say their “Corrido de Juanito” is not a precursor, at least until Calibre songwriter Edén Muñoz corrects me. The defeat resides partly in Muñoz’s melody, rising hopefully before collapsing into perpetual sighs; partly in the slow tempo and settled-in length, unusual for a radio corrido; but mostly in Juanito’s sadness at missing his family and feeling like an outsider everywhere, even around his own English-speaking, El Norte-born children.
VALE LA PENA

2017 Albums: Christian Nodal NO VALE LA PENA

Looking to donate to Mexican disaster relief efforts? Let UNICEF ambassador Shakira and Friend of the Blog Leonel show you how.

me deje llevar

When NorteñoBlog mentioned yesterday that Christian Nodal‘s duet with David Bisbal, “Probablemente,” had ascended to #1 at regional Mexican radio, I left out a few relevant facts. First, Billboard reports that this is the Spanish Bisbal’s third appearance on the regional Mexican chart, a fact I find remarkable since both those previous tunes sound about as Mexican as I do. Which isn’t to say they’re bad. With its politely distorted riff, pensive acoustic fills, anthemic chorus, and chordally sophisticated bridge, “Quien Me Iba a Decir” could be prime Richard Marx. (You better believe such a thing exists.) What it was doing on RegMex radio in 2006 I have no idea, but that was the era when the Black Eyed Peas were scoring minor hits on the same format. It’s an era I want to return.

my love for mexicoSecond, Nodal’s long-awaited debut album Me Dejé Llevar (Fonovisa) is the top Regional Mexican album in the land, showcasing as it does his crooning-beyond-its-years voice and (sigh) trademark “mariacheño” style, which I think means a mariachi band with a lead accordion. As both Wiki and Gustavo Arrellano note, this isn’t a wholly unprecedented combination — Angelica Maria‘s “Me Gusta Estar Contigo” and Juan Gabriel‘s “Caray” got there first, and both are way more fun than anything on the surprisingly stodgy Me Dejé Llevar. Though I don’t cover much mariachi, that’s mostly because it’s not in vogue right now; one of the Blog’s founding principles is that Vicente Fernandez‘s “Estos Celos” and Jose Feliciano‘s tribute album My Love for Mexico are surpassing works of art. That’s because they’re full of color and life — singers doing unexpected things with their voices, instruments combining into rhythms of unstoppable momentum.

And that’s the third thing: “Probablemente,” like most of Nodal’s album, is just dull. As has been noted, Nodal’s first single “Adiós Amor” was an excellent performance of a perfect pop song. The melody went to novel places and the syncopated guitar groove motored the whole thing along. On “Probablemente” the guitarist opts for straight 8th notes, which gets old, if not water-torturey, real fast. The uninspired horn lines have little purpose apart from anouncing “¡Mariachi!” while Nodal croons and displays his admittedly impressive range. But he never loses himself to the whoops of joy or sobbing heartbroken despair of his elders. Like U.S. folk music, mariachi needs to at least flirt with bad taste, or it risks becoming simply a museum exhibit about national spirit and heritage. Blech.

A Nodal profile at Diario de Mexico shows a serious young man, worryingly describing his music as though it were a plate of locally farmed Brussels sprouts. “At the moment, the youth don’t know much mariachi, because they don’t know the names of some composers,” he says. “Banda and sierreño are in style; I think it’s necessary that people get to know our mariachi music again.” I’ll admit, it seems to be working for him. His first two singles topped their radio format in two different countries, quite an accomplishment. And the album isn’t all bad — “Vas a Querer Regresar” at least gives the guitarist something bouncy to do, and on “Yo No Sé Mañana” Nodal sounds like a swarthy Julio Iglesias fronting Chicago, before they both shift into a Marc Anthony-style salsa groove. But for most of Me Dejé Llevar, the gifted singer/songwriter lets his piety get the better of him.

NO VALE LA PENA

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”

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)”

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)”

El Jerry con La Gorrita es El Barco (¡Indies A-Go-Go!)

gerardo coronel

With more and more precisely coiffed muchachos hopping onto the Sierreño bandwagon, it’s easy to forget that some of them were Sierreño when Sierreño wasn’t cool. Case in point: Gerardo Coronel, a 21-year-old Michoacánder who was recording the stuff for the Twiins label (also home to El Komander) back in 2014, when the world was busy falling for Ariel Camacho, whose untimely death in 2015 lit a fuse under the style’s popularity. If you like Camacho, you’ll dig Coronel — he sings with a similar effortless romanticism, mixes up corridos with romantic tunes, and his videos are full of thoughtful squints into the distance, which, let’s face it, is the sexiest bad boy pose. (Or, as my wife keeps asking me, “What are you looking at?”)

el jerryCoronel’s new album El Jerry (Rancho Humilde) is a wonderful mix of guitar-tuba virtuosity and shaggy dog accordion waltzes, with subdued brass hitting the upbeats. Some hasty cartel googling reveals the title mafioso may be one Gerardo Treviño Robles of the Gulf Cartel, but “El Jerry” is clearly an aesthetic ploy for Coronel to come off as a swaggering badass. His band affords him that luxury. Or rather, his bands — there are a couple different ones on this album, and he seems to perform with a third lineup, none of whose names I can find. (Maybe if you have a CD booklet in front of you…?) Whoever they are, the lead requinto and accordion players are having all kinds of fun, and the rhythm sections excel at setting up a variety of breezy grooves. NorteñoBlog directs you to the kiss-off “Te Deseo Lo Mejor,” 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. VALE LA PENA

nueva rebelionLong time readers may remember that, back in 2014, NorteñoBlog was all in for La Nueva Rebelión, a rocking five-piece whose bassist plays a custom axe shaped like an assault rifle. I may have compared them to the Minutemen; in my defense, I was not the only critic to arrive at that comparison. True to form, I slept on their 2016 release La Gorrita y Que Suene la Rebe (Puro Party). On cursory listen, it doesn’t have anything as world-exploding as “Me Hicieron Mas Fuerte”; but, you know, Picasso just had the one Guernica. In their best songs, this is still a band trying desperately to pull as much music as possible from their poor instruments. Their new single “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. Pick to Click!

el barcoThe quartet Los Titanes de Durango has been having fun lately, first fooling a DEA official into believing the singer’s Dad was El Chapo, then scoring the best hit about getting pulled over for speeding since “99 Problems” — although Los Titanes were going 280 in a 110, and therefore having way more fun than Jay-Z, who was only going 55 in a 54. Their latest album is El Barco (Titanica), on first listen a likeable stylistic jumble of 16 songs, from love polkas to backbeat rock. The title waltz is a rare go-getting corrido that doesn’t seem to be about the drug trade. It’s just about how we’re all ships, man. Their big dumb cumbia “Esto Se Va Descontrolar” convincingly depicts that enlightened state of drunkenness where you realize you’ll puke if you sing anything besides a single note, over and over again.

Yo Quiero Tu Saxo (febrero 2017)

reunion-nortena

aycci-nortenaIt 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. From the icy wilds of New Mexico comes Aycci Norteña, whose self-released debut album Futuro en Nuestras Manos (alternate title: Saxo Con Nuestras Manos) is an entirely decent jaunt through pop hooks and sax/accordion riffs. As with Geeshie Wiley and Jesus, photos of the Ayccis don’t exist, but the principles of detection tell me they’re a five-or-six-piece: cracking bajosexto/bass/drums rhythm section, an overactive accordionist whose sworn enemy is silence, and sax. Plus whoever’s singing. Plus whoever’s applying heaping doses of reverb. But fair is fair: Aycci’s song entitled “Por Eso Te Amo” (aka “Tu Saxo es Por Eso Te Amo”) has less reverb than Río Roma’s pop dirge of the same name. We’re gonna Pick to Click “Quiero Volver,” though, because then you can watch all these happy couples dancing:

Remember right after Y2K when The Strokes came out, and then suddenly you had all these guitar rock bands named “The [Objects]”? There were The Roots, The Streets, The Avalanches, and I forget who else. Something similar is cooking at la frontera de U.S./Mexico, where saxophones glisten against the desert sands. There we find: Continue reading “Yo Quiero Tu Saxo (febrero 2017)”

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