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NorteñoBlog

music, charts, opinions

Lo Mejor de 2016: Where the Action Is

The Grammys and the Mexican government would very much like Mexico’s musical output to consist of genteel roots music. Fortunately, NorteñoBlog’s annual playlist 2016 VALE LA PENA shows that Mexican-American musicians have other ideas.

Our playlist has El Komander singing about immigration in two very different, equally urgent songs: once from the vantage point of a mother whose son is missing, and once as a proudly binational drug dealer. The playlist includes a defiant statement of national pride from Los Inquietos and Marco Flores. There are love songs from guitar bands, brass bands, accordion bands, sax bands, and synth bands.  El Bebeto and Banda Tierra Sagrada stop by to plug liquor; Fuerza de Tijuana celebrates two real-life American narcos. The guys in Los Titanes de Durango drive way too fast. La Rumorosa curses a terrible boyfriend; Intocable mourns absent amor with distorted guitar and a smoking accordion solo. At the top of the list, El Armenta offers a low-fi Lynchian nightmare of a cumbia about his girlfriend’s dog. All in all, it’s as energetic and varied as any single-genre playlist you’re likely to find.

THIS, Grammy voters, is where the action is.

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vicente-un-aztecaEven as NorteñoBlog congratulates living legend Vicente Fernández on winning his third Grammy for Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano) (But Not Including Grupero ‘Cause That Shit Suuuuuuuux), we gotta note that this particular win is lame in a very Grammy-ish way. Continue reading “Lo Mejor de 2016: Where the Action Is”

Do Bandas Dream of Romantic Sheep? (or, nodding off to bandas románticas in 2017)

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NorteñoBlog has been of two minds about Las Bandas Románticas de América, the annual compilation of lovey-dovey banda hits (and “hits”) released by either Fonovisa or Disa Records, the two norteño tentacles of el pulpo gigante known as Universal Music Latin Entertainment. The first mind thinks the songs are catchy, and is grateful for the occasion to write the phrase “asymptotically approaching the musical ideal of amor.” The second mind hated asymptotes in high school, thinks 20 straight love ballads is 19 too many, has nightmare fever dreams involving doe-eyed clarinet armies, and has boycotted the series for two years running.

bandas-romanticas-2017Resolve is not the Blog’s strong suit. Thus did I find myself washing dishes and listening to the latest in the series, Las Bandas Románticas de América 2017, 20 songs by 10 bands, only some of whom are “hitmakers” in the sense of “being heard anywhere outside this compilation.” I mean, I’m sure they tour. But if you’ve heard “Pedirás Perdón,” a 2015 nonentity by Banda Coraleña, on the radio anywhere in North America, you’re doing better than I am. If you can hum the song without looking it up, you’re doing better than Banda Coraleña. Give ’em this: their cover of Joey Montana‘s “Picky” is adequate! It’s also not included on Las Bandas Románticas de América 2017 — ironic for the least choosy compilation series around.

But you do get some good songs. As previously discussed, La Séptima Banda released some fine singles in 2016, two of which — the swinging ’50s sock hop “Yo Si Me Enamoré” and the irrepressibly bouncy “Se Va Muriendo Mi Alma” — are here. You also get Banda Los Recoditos’ current hit “Me Está Tirando El Rollo,” featuring some syncopated tuba bass that’s a primo distante of “Stand By Me,” and Samuel Sarmiento, the singer who isn’t Luis Angel Franco. Banda El Recodo‘s remake of “Mujer Mujer” keeps growing on me. Banda Rancho Viejo is, for NorteñoBlog’s money, the best banda working and always worth hearing. Their tune “Mil Veces Te Quiero” was also ignored by radio, and it’s from freaking 2014, but it combines an echoing triple-voiced hook and gang shouts with one of the struttingest grooves in all of bandaland. (Plus, more ’50s sock hop imagery in the video. Thinkpieces go!) A tardy Pick to Click.

Continue reading “Do Bandas Dream of Romantic Sheep? (or, nodding off to bandas románticas in 2017)”

Teoría de la Evolución (Desfile de Éxitos 2/11/17)

This week’s Pick to Click is right up front, so you can listen while you read about some… updates to Billboard magazine’s chart methodologies. Woo hoo! (Trust me, the song’s pretty.)

This week Billboard magazine changed the way it compiles some of its singles charts, including the Hot Latin chart. The magazine started including streaming data from Pandora, and it “rebalanced the ratio among sales, airplay and streaming, accounting for changes in music consumption patterns, i.e., increases in streaming and decreases in sales.” This rebalancing happens every once in a while, but figuring in the Pandora data is new. You might think we’d notice the Pandora effect on the Hot Latin chart, since Latin music is 11% of what gets streamed on Pandora, where 25% of users identify as Hispanic. It’s also worth noting that, in 2016, two thirds of Pandora’s most popular Latin songs were Regional Mexican, and that the list was dominated by hot young studs singing Sierreño: Ariel Camacho, Los Plebes del Rancho, Crecer Germán, and Adriel Favela‘s genre foray “Tomen Nota.” Teen idols taking over!

ulices-chaidez-smolderingBut if you compare this week’s chart with the one from three weeks ago (or with last week’s), not much seems to have changed. Shakira’s “La Bicicleta” abruptly disappeared from its place in the top 10, and Banda MS‘s “Tengo Que Colgar” now appears only on the Regional Mexican Airplay chart. (Good! Whenever I stream that song it makes my phone run slower.) But on the whole, songs that were climbing before have continued their trajectory, some older songs have dropped off, and Regional Mexican still occupies eight of the top 25 spots, a consistent ratio in recent weeks. Hot young Sierreño stud Ulices Chaidez has two songs in the top 25 — but he did last week, too. So maybe this continuity simply means Billboard got its rebalance right, and that its charts reflect music as it’s actually listened to.

While we’re talking chart data, the Top Latin Albums chart also got an update: it switched from a sales-only formula to “a multi-metric methodology, blending pure album sales, track equivalent album (TEA) units, and streaming equivalent album (SEA) units.” (The big album chart, the Billboard 200, has done this for a while now.) This created much more dramatic changes from last week to this week, mostly in favor of artists whose fans skew younger. Continue reading “Teoría de la Evolución (Desfile de Éxitos 2/11/17)”

Los Ritmos de Remex Records

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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? Continue reading “Los Ritmos de Remex Records”

Who’s On the Mexican Radio? (1/27/17)

christian-nodal-bigWelcome to the Mexican radio charts*: Changing quicker than Mexican-American diplomatic relations! More exciting than the Doomsday Clock! Not even half the existential threat of those stupid made-up islands in the South China Sea!

NorteñoBlog is pleased to note that, since we last checked in, we get to enjoy nine new songs. Two are straight-up replacements for the better:

At #13, La Arrolladora Banda swaps its slow jam “Yo Sí Te Amé” for the busy merengue-flavored “Traicionera”;

and at #2, the young hotshot accordion slinger Alfredo Olivas trades the decent bluesy norteño number “Seguramente” for the skippy deathbed meditation “El Paciente,” con banda. He even works in a shoutout to the mythic Catarino, a corrido legend who fought in the Revolution and healed his wounds with his own saliva. Alfredito doesn’t fare as well in the song, but the Blog is looking forward to his next, apparently posthumous album. Pick to Click!

Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? (1/27/17)”

Archivos de 1996 (starring Jennifer y Los Jetz, Los Tigres, y más)

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The Regional Mexican charts of 1996 held four separate genres. One of them was the deathless norteño of Los Tigres and Los Huracanes; the other three were in various stages of decline.

The technobanda of Bandas Machos and Maguey still thrived, but in a few years would be eclipsed by acoustic banda. Helena Simonett’s book Banda lays out the commercial leapfrogging these two styles played with one another throughout the ’90s.

Tejano fans were still mourning Selena — see #7 below — but they were also welcoming newcomers like Jennifer Peña y Los Jetz (see the Pick to Click, below) and Bobby Pulido (see the terrible song right below her). There were, however, rumblings on the horizon. San Antonio and Dallas were suffering from too many Tejano bookers flooding the market, one promoter told Billboard‘s Ramiro Burr. Some bands complained that clubs were replacing live bands with DJs. Burr would spend the next several years chronicling the decline of the Tejano genre as a commercial force, though it still exists for a small but fervent fanbase.

The third synth-based style, grupo music, also still exists, but its commercial mojo would peter out more abruptly. Marco Antonio Solís had just left Los Bukis and was scoring a bunch of solo Hot Latin #1 hits that sounded way more pop than the rest of his cohort. (See #2 below.) Bronco would retire in 1997, leaving Los Temerarios and Los Mismos to care for the genre. I think. NorteñoBlog’s disinterest in grupo music remains strong and resolute.

[EDIT: I just checked and Los Temerarios were still scoring big hits in 2004, and possibly later, so maybe the petering was more gradual.]

These were the Top 15 Regional Mexican songs, as published by Billboard on November 9, 1996: Continue reading “Archivos de 1996 (starring Jennifer y Los Jetz, Los Tigres, y más)”

¡Indies a Go Go! (starring Los Hijos de Hernández y más)

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lalo-moraThis week in the “norteño legend covers the Great Ranchera Songbook” department, we find Lalo Mora, formerly of the ’70s duo Lalo y Lupe and the ’80s band Los Invasores de Nuevo León. Mora’s been making solo music on labels big and small for a while now, and on his latest, Un Millón de Primaveras (Mora), he’s hired a banda to help him dig through some classics. The horn charts are decent and Mora’s grizzled voice settles into the tunes with effortless authority, but you’ve probably heard these songs done better elsewhere. NorteñoBlog directs you to Joan Sebastian‘s country-with-horns take on the title track, which he wrote; and to Vicente Fernández‘s trembling and magisterial version of “El Ultimo en la Fila,” which Sebastian also wrote. Lest you think the entire Great Ranchera Songbook sprang from Joan Sebastian’s tear-stained pen, Mora also sings “Cartas Marcadas” and some other decidedly non-Sebastian tunes. The album’s technically accomplished, but I never need to hear it again: NO VALE LA PENA.

leonardo-aguilarLeonardo Aguilar has lucked into some decidedly less accomplished banda charts on his debut album Gallo Fino (Machin) — if you wanna hear clarinets cloy hard, check out this single from a couple years ago. No matter: I like Aguilar’s album better than Lalo Mora’s. Continue reading “¡Indies a Go Go! (starring Los Hijos de Hernández y más)”

Alta Consigna Takes Charge (Desfile de Éxitos 1/21/17)

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Since NorteñoBlog last checked out Billboard‘s charts four weeks ago, the Hot Latin chart remains depressingly stagnant, with only six new songs. Four of the songs in the Top 10 have been there over half a year. Worse, the  Mexican songs in the Top 25 all sound like stagnant pools of overripe romance, unless you get real zen about it; then they become meditative pools whose stillness reflects back to us our most private yearnings.

alta-consignaThat includes the song at #20, “Culpable Tu,” by the young guitar/bass/tuba quintet Alta Consigna. Released back in July, it does not appear on their new album No Te Pide Mucho (Rancho Humilde), which shares a pacing strategy with Neil Young’s 1979 classic Rust Never Sleeps: lull listeners to sleep during the first half, then wake ’em up by rocking out more ferociously than any of your peers. This comparison is not exact; the first half of Rust Never Sleeps is better than the first half of No Te Pide Mucho, but in Alta Consigna’s defense, Neil Young famously did not record a world-historical bachata-with-tuba cover of “Propuesta Indecente.” Few albums of 1979 did. This is something the critical histories of the period won’t tell you.

NorteñoBlog has dug Alta Consigna before. Back in 2015 they got a “ft.” credit on Grupo El Reto‘s “La Parranda Va Empezar,” as ferocious a cavalcade of strumming and triple tonguing as you could hope for. At the band’s best — i.e., a new re-recording of its 2015 tune “Sinaloense Es El Joven” — it capitalizes on having two bass instruments by making them do completely opposite, equally rad things. Dani Vida fires a wild variety of machine gun and other noises from his tuba, while bassist Esteban González achieves a truly menacing tone. “Culpable” might be the token romantic ballad that gets people’s attention, but the back half of Mucho is where the Picks to Click reside. The album is VALE LA PENA, at least if you play it on shuffle.

Continue reading “Alta Consigna Takes Charge (Desfile de Éxitos 1/21/17)”

Money, Innovation, and Resentment: Helena Simonett’s “Banda: Mexican Musical Life Across Borders”

simonettCurrent reading on the NorteñoBlog nightstand is Helena Simonett’s 2001 book Banda: Mexican Musical Life Across Borders. Simonett is an ethnomusicologist at Vanderbilt University; she spent much of the ’90s interviewing banda musicians and fans around L.A. and northwestern Mexico. If you think back to ’90s banda — at least to the small extent that the blog has delved into it — the predominant sounds were the synth/horn combinations of technobandas like Banda Machos and Banda Maguey. They were sort of precursors to Chicago duranguense bands, with synths replacing horns and fewer members than a typical Sinaloan brass band. The venerable acoustic Banda El Recodo was respected and toured internationally through the ’90s, but it didn’t have much of a presence as pop music. Now, along with a host of other acoustic bandas, it does, and the technobanda sound has all but disappeared. One of the blog’s ongoing goals has been to learn how the current banda sound — classic acoustic brass bands playing newly written pop tunes — took over the radio.

jimenezAs told by Simonett, this history is complex, so here’s an oversimplification. For much of its early history, banda was largely confined to the state of Sinaloa in northwestern Mexico. (How it got there is a whole other story.) Mexico’s intellectual elite, centered in Mexico City, pushed mariachi as the national music of the people — it was cultivated by radio and the national government, which required mariachi bands play the capital in elegant charro costumes. Mariachi musicians still weren’t rich, but their string-based folk music was considered more noble and sophisticated than that of the bandas, even when the ensembles were playing many of the same songs. The difference? “Sinaloan intellectuals had never considered regional banda music folk music,” writes Simonett. “It was never the focus of interest, never presented as a tourist article, and never used for national political purposes… It evolved in the shadow of the periphery.”

Simonett includes an amazing 1926 article, written just a few years after the revolution, from a newspaper in Sinaloa’s port city of Mazatlán. The article’s author praises Mexican folk music because it jibes with his romantic notion of The People. (“The national soul has not yet died.”) But the guy hates banda. He writes sarcastically of its “hullaballoo”, “It sounds better to the ears standardized by the vibrating vertigo of the locomotives and electric trains and of the machinery of the factories.” Notice how Dylan Goes Electric that argument sounds: loud music that sounds like the city can’t be the authentic voice of the people! Too vulgar! Too commercial! Although I should note, banda was no more “commercial” than mariachi at that point.

Bandas would soon try to change that. Continue reading “Money, Innovation, and Resentment: Helena Simonett’s “Banda: Mexican Musical Life Across Borders””

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