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NorteñoBlog

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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)”

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Who’s On the Mexican Radio? (starring José Manuel Figueroa, Bronco, y más)

ordenando

This week NorteñoBlog bids a fond Mexican chart farewell to Alfredo Olivas‘s “El Paciente.” It’s a rousing deathbed meditation and previous Pick to Click that’s still hitting on U.S. radio, where its rippling banda charts and soaring melody sound better every time I hear them. Plus — always worth noting — the song shouts out Revolutionary legend Catarino, who was able to heal his wounds with his own saliva. Sources tell me the new, top-secret Republican healthcare bill relies exclusively on this method of treatment.

BRONCO_B-696X852But fans of medical metaphors and in-song death need not worry: in its place we have “Doctor” by Bronco, a smooth, synth-led grupero throwback, written by one of the dudes from pop duo Río Roma. Its story is simple and disturbing. The self-medicating, anhedonic narrator visits his doctor asking for a heart transplant because he can no longer love. The doctor assures our narrator that no cure exists, and instead offers to kill him. The narrator accepts. This bleak indictment of Mexico’s public healthcare system has somehow slipped past censors and cracked the top 10 of the nation’s radio chart, no doubt thanks to the seductive powers of its soothing cumbia lilt. Seasons don’t fear the reaper. You can be like they are. Come on, baby.

michaJust ahead of the sickos in Bronco we find La Séptima Banda and their latest shot of banda pop cheer, “Se Defiende.” It’s the lead single from their new album Micha y Micha (Fonovisa), half new studio songs and half live corridos. It’s not as good or surprising as last year’s NONSTOP POP EXPLOSION A Todo Volumen, but it’ll still get you through a commute. “Se Defiende” gives you a good idea of the band’s trash compactor approach to brass charts: they cram a bunch of hooks into a small space, mercilessly squeeze the whole mess down to two and a half minutes, and produce a gleaming cube that’s somehow homogenous and finely detailed at once.

no estas tuAt #18 we find José Manuel Figueroa with “Adiós,” from one of 2017’s most enjoyable albums until it peters out at the end, No Estás Tú (Fonovisa). Figueroa shares his given name and a talent for composing and producing with his father, the late Joan Sebastian. Also like padre, Figueroa doesn’t strictly adhere to any one style; he writes what amount to catchy country-pop songs, and on this album he mostly sets them to expert banda arrangements, though sometimes guitar, piano, and strings pop up. (On 2013’s “Rosas y Espinas” he dabbled with synths, which sounded cool and fit right in.) If you know NorteñoBlog at all, you know I’m a sucker for bandas that play bouncy backbeat pop, so “Adiós” is right up the Blog’s alley. The tuba bassline groove 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. Maybe that’s how his voice got so scratchy. Pick to Click!

Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? (starring José Manuel Figueroa, Bronco, y más)”

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.

Flaming Gallos and Dancing Jesuses (Desfile de Éxitos 6/10/17)

el gallero

KOMANDERLoyal readers understand that any new single by Alfredo Ríos “El Komander” makes NorteñoBlog crow with excitement. El Komander is one of the best, most prolific singles artists on the continent and his new radio hit “El Gallero” (#13 airplay) is another feather in his cap. And just so we’re clear: this song is some straight up, undiluted, no-question-what-he’s-singing-about cockfighting bullshit. I’ve combed the text for mitigating factors and found none. It’s not a metaphor. It’s not simply a video featuring the sport, like Alacranes Musical‘s strutting dance classic “Zapateado Encabronado #3”, which the Blog could not in good conscience endorse back in 2014. No, “El Gallero” pecks away at the same magnificently plumed tradition as Vicente Fernandez‘s “La Muerte de un Gallero” — only, where Fernandez told an O Henry-ish short story set in the competitive cockfighting world, Komander’s song is pure identity politics and local pride.

We’ve seen this sort of dynamic before, specifically with narcocorridos: “In one of those ironies that’s defined parent-child musical tastes since forever, [my librarian] Fatima’s dad is a big Chalino Sanchez fan but thinks these new corrideros are a bunch of idiots. Those old school corrideros knew how to tell a real story.” Whereas, the argument goes, new jack corrideros like El Komander simply revel in the decadent trappings of the game.

Where else have we seen this play out? Oh, right — country music. Recall Marty Robbins’ “The Strawberry Roan,” a short bronc busting story I’m on record loving. In a few compact stanzas, Robbins uses obscure terms of rodeic art to immerse listeners in the seedy bronc busting underworld, and his story of Man meeting his equine match turns into an awe-stricken proverb about life’s eternally unexplored vistas:

“I know there are ponies that I cannot ride;
There’s some of them left, they haven’t all died.”

Four decades later Garth Brooks recorded “Rodeo,” which also rattled off obscure terms of art but, like “El Gallero,” was pure identity politics and local (well, professional) pride. You could argue that Brooks helped inspire today’s bro-country movement of good old boys obsessing over how Country they are, and becoming aesthetically impoverished in the process, but what we’re really talking about is different songwriting tools. At their cores, the parallel cases of “Strawberry Roan” vs. “Rodeo” and “La Muerte” vs. “El Gallero” represent differences in perspective. (I mean, “Rodeo” is my least favorite Garth Brooks song, but just on a musical level.) Brooks and Komander both have excellent storytelling songs in their repertoires, but sometimes you just want to sing a damn anthem.

But, right, cockfighting. Sigh. NorteñoBlog cannot in good conscience endorse this middling El Komander single whose video seems to depict a rooster killed in battle. What I CAN endorse is getting onto U.S. radio with a line that translates “My cock is always on fire.” Your move, Kings of Leon.

dinastia mendozaFar as I can tell, “El Gallero” hasn’t raised the hackles of the SPCA or any other group of moralizers. The same cannot be said for the song at #46 on the big chart, “El Pasito Perrón” by the gregarious dance band Grupo Dianastia Mendoza. Continue reading “Flaming Gallos and Dancing Jesuses (Desfile de Éxitos 6/10/17)”

La Impersistencia de la Memoria (Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 5/22/17)

chayinRubiotopradio

Forgetting has a long and proud history in pop music, from Elvis’s “I Forgot to Remember to Forget,” to Shakira chirping “Can’t Remember to Forget You,” to Robin Thicke having no idea how he wrote “Blurred Lines.” In country music alone, NorteñoBlog has forgotten hundreds of songs about singers’ misguided attempts to grapple with the past by flooding their temporal lobes with alcohol. So the recent appearance of four or five(!) simultaneous Mexican hits about forgetfulness doesn’t necessitate much more than an exclamation point. Yet here we go…

(Treat the blog nice, or I’ll remember to turn this into a full-fledged thinkpiece about how banda forgetfulness channels Paz’s Dialectic of Solitude or some shit.)

Banda El Recodo De Cruz Lizarraga - Me Prometí OlvidarteFirst up! The oldest of the four comes from the venerable Banda El Recodo, doing Edgar Barrera and Martin Castro’s midtempo waltz “Me Prometí Olvidarte.” Turns out that, after we collectively cheated on Banda El Recodo and destroyed their collective heart into a thousand pieces, they promised to forget us. Guess how that worked out. They forgot us so thoroughly they commissioned a song about how thoroughly they forgot us! I blame our world class gams. This song is mid-tier Recodo, fairly trad with the polished spit sheen of expert arranging and recording. But our gams demand more than mere professional competence, do they not? NO VALE LA PENA

Julión Álvarez Y Su Norteño Banda - Esta Noche Se Me Olvida-300x300Next oldest is from the man blessed with the continent’s best voice, Julión Álvarez, whose “Esta Noche Se Me Olvida” is a slow banda ballad from Calibre 50’s Edén Muñoz and relative newcomer Gussy Lau. You, faithless lover, have driven Álvarez to drink, that he might forget your kisses. Why would you choke that beautiful scratchy warble on alcohol and tears? The video portrays our hero playing to throngs of adoring fans at an outdoor concert, cementing his status as the biggest norteño star outside Gerardo Ortiz, but this middling ballad isn’t getting me excited for Álvarez’s forthcoming album, Ni Diablo, Ni Santo, due out Friday. NO VALE LA PENA.

arrolladoraWe turn to our next victims of love’s cruel dementia, La Arrolladora Banda, who know how to kick out the slow jams, some of which are really good. Continue reading “La Impersistencia de la Memoria (Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 5/22/17)”

¡Perros y gatos! ¡Viviendo juntos! (Desfile de Éxitos 5/6/17)

calibre 50

NorteñoBlog’s Pick to Click comes this week from Calibre 50, but it is not the quartet’s smash Top 10 ballad “Siempre Te Voy a Querer,” which does not solve Calibre’s perennial ballad problem — namely, that most of their ballads sound thin and flimsy and threaten to grind to a halt with every bar. Nor is it their #13 airplay hit/Michelob jingle “Las Ultras,” which, since first spotting it on the Mexican charts a couple weeks ago, has admittedly grown on me like so much cheap beer and/or beachfront dressage.

No, you should instead direct your attention to Calibre’s cover of “Volveré a Amar” by the 10-years-late banda singer Valentín Elizalde. The song itself is swanky midtempo heartache with backbeat and doo-wop tuba, a 2004 template for later earworms like Roberto Tapia’s “Mirando al Cielo.” (Or at least, it’s one of the templates: El Coyote beat Elizalde to this particular sound back in the ’90s.) Covering the tune, Eden Muñoz does his best Elizalde impression and sings low in his range, a wise choice — he’s as effortlessly charming as beachfront dressage. When the accordion quartet takes over for the banda during the chorus, the transition is seamless and full, so hats off to whoever recorded and mixed this thing. It’s at #39 airplay and you can find it on Fonovisa’s terrific collection of Elizalde covers, Tributo a Valentín Elizalde, previously covered here.

Also in the news:

— At #4, Christian Nodal‘s debut single “Adiós Amor” continues to win hearts and Youtube revenue. (Closing in on 128 million views!) Last month we covered it at The Singles Jukebox, where I wrote, Continue reading “¡Perros y gatos! ¡Viviendo juntos! (Desfile de Éxitos 5/6/17)”

Un Aplauso Para Esas Mujeres (Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 4/21/17)

LUCERO-HASTA-QUE-AMANEZCA-17-FEB-17022017-193312

Women charting with norteño and banda music remains an unfortunately rare phenomenon, like snow in April or seeing an owl in the wild. So NorteñoBlog is stoked to see not one but two women on the Mexican radio charts this week. At #10 is actress/singer/”novia de America” Lucero, with a banda remake of Joan Sebastian’s 1980 countrypolitan tune “Hasta Que Amanezca”. With its repeated demands of “Ámame!”, it’s as forceful a love song as anything from Taylor Dayne’s Imperative Period, and Lucero really lets her voice fly around the melody’s contours. VALE LA PENA

Diana-reyes-la-pasion-tiene-memoriaThen at #18 we’ve got Diana Reyes with the banda song “La Pasión Tiene Memoria,” a song that appeared on her 2015 album but just got a video. It’s a Jekyll-and-Hyde deal with lovey verses detailing the memories of love, and then an angry chorus, in a different key and tempo, where Reyes goes crazy and feels everything overflowing inside her. The switch from verse to chorus is jarring, but Reyes’ voice remains a wonder and the song is growing on me. And it’s definitely better than anything off her dull new album Cuando Tuve Ganas. VALE LA PENA

(Although, la pura verdad, I think I prefer the new Jekyll-and-Hyde video from Chiquis Rivera, “Horas Extras,” to both. Give me a week to ruminate.)

luna aplausoAnd it’s not just women getting in on the “women” act! At #17 we find Edwin Luna, his Banda la Trakalosa, and his perennially nascent acting chops performing “Un Aplauso,” which is sadly not a Lady Gaga remake. Continue reading “Un Aplauso Para Esas Mujeres (Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 4/21/17)”

Los Jóvenes Sónicos (Desfile de Éxitos 3/25/17)

el fantasma

The unlikeliest song on this week’s hit parade is “Mi 45,” by man-myth-legend and all around mysterious dude El Fantasma. In the year since NorteñoBlog first dug this ghostly apparition’s indie debut album, Equipo Armado (AfinArte), we have learned a couple things about him. First, that his real name is Alexander García. Second, that he’s known as “El Rey Del Underground,” if only to his madre. Third, that he’s playing my neck of the woods this weekend, so if you’re near Chicago and you wanna hear some ace corridos, check out his Facebook page. Fourth… actually, that’s it. El Fantasma keeps everything close to the vest.

mi 45Including, it turns out, his 45. This hit corrido, #35 on the big chart and #20 on the radio, has inspired a round of Hasty Cartel Googling that hasn’t yielded much, except that 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. NorteñoBlog also can’t tell why the song’s hitting now — hometown pride? riding the Sierreño wave? — or even which version is the hit — the fiery guitar/tuba original, or the just-wild-enough banda remake? El Fantasma: still an international man of mystery!

A belated Pick to Click:

Continue reading “Los Jóvenes Sónicos (Desfile de Éxitos 3/25/17)”

¡Controversy! ¡Polémica! (Who’s On the Mexican Radio?)

marco-flores-dancing

Controversy! ¡Polémica! NorteñoBlog’s favorite dancer Marco Flores (aka Marco A. Flores) y su Banda Jerez (aka #1 Banda Jerez, or simply La Jerez) are back on the Mexican airwaves with “Los Viejitos” at #17, an amped up waltz that takes an insanely complex approach to both rhythmic subdividing and cultural appropriating.

los-viejitos-400x400The song, you see, plays on the traditional Danza de los Viejitos, danced for centuries by the indigenous Purépecha people in the highlands of Michoacán. Flores lives two states to the north in Zacatecas, but because he bows to Terpsichore in all her forms, he’s opened his new video with a not necessarily accurate re-enactment: five guys in flamboyant stooped-old-man costumes walk a circle, “helped” by members of La Jerez, who keep looking underneath their ponchos but seem otherwise respectful. The slow, trad fiddle music of la Danza stops abruptly, La Jerez kicks into its waltz, Flores flails his limbs, and the stooped old men spring to life, emboldened by this rad new beat. There’s a long, proud history of affectionately tweaking the Olds by replacing their slow rhythm with a new, faster rhythm — recall the Clash’s “Wrong ‘Em Boyo” or Nirvana’s “Territorial Pissings.” Flores seems to be operating on the same impulse here.

¡No tan rápido! says Michoacán’s secretary of indigenous people, Martín García Avilés. (Let’s just note how great it is that a Mexican state has its own secretary of indigenous people.) García Avilés calls the video an insult to native traditions nationwide. Flores and La Jerez are denigrating the Purépecha people and subjecting them to ridicule, he says, and they should take down the video. Flores expresses surprise, countering that he’s trying to rescue and exalt la Danza and bring it to the attention of younger generations. NorteñoBlog, watching a video of an actual Danza, asks warily, “Aren’t the dancing fake old men supposed to be funny? At least a little bit?” Not that I plan to start making video parodies of indigenous dances any time soon. Tumblr would have a collective aneurysm. But I’m curious to know how Flores’s video reads to other people who’ve grown up with la Danza de los Viejitos. Offensive? Funny?

Anyway, as I mentioned, the rhythms in this thing are also stellar — bar by bar, the band divides the basic pulse into either two or three, with Flores subdividing those beats into even smaller and faster bits during the choruses, his accents landing in unexpected places. Limbs flail accordingly. Pick to Click!

Continue reading “¡Controversy! ¡Polémica! (Who’s On the Mexican Radio?)”

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