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¡Lo Mejor de 2018!

el-dusty

In 2018, Regional Mexican radio chilled out. Amid the ever-shifting blend of genres that comprises the format, the two “new” styles that commanded the most attention sounded remarkably blase about their surging popularity. In fact, “command” seems like the wrong word for the genres of cumbia and corridos verdes, since they were just sitting around in a smoky haze, waiting for audiences to trip over them.

As Elias Leight explained in a spring Rolling Stone feature, cumbias have been around for decades, having traveled from South America throughout the Spanish-speaking diaspora over the last 70-or-so years. Turn-of-the-millennium hits from Los Angeles Azules, a swanky Mexican big band, have never outgrown their use as commercial bumper music on U.S. radio. The band’s recent resurgence culminated in a 2018 Coachella performance, dug by none other than Justin Bieber, and a current hit rearrangement of Natalia LaFourcade’s tune “Nunca Es Suficiente.” And that’s just the acoustic stuff.

The electronic technocumbia scene, pioneered by Selena and her producer brother A.B. Quintanilla in the mid ‘90s, got new energy from former nano-satellite engineer Edmundo Gómez Moreno, aka Raymix, and his unkillable singles “Oye Mujer” and “¿Dónde Estarás?” The Blog admires the mysterious modality of these singles and admits they don’t really sound like anyone else.The Blog also never wants to listen to them. Like the band Low, for whose 2018 album Double Negative I also didn’t have much time, Raymix zeros in on precisely one mood and hits his mark. It’s a feat that demands acknowledgement rather than repeated listening.

If Raymix songs seem like they might sound better stoned, corridos verdes make that theme explicit. Praised by Snoop, played mostly by young sierreño bands who weave hypnotic patterns from acoustic guitars and either bass or tuba, these songs can get sort of samey. If you thought shoutouts to narcos were getting old, or if you were having trouble differentiating weeping meditations on drinking away lost amors, wait until you hear a bunch of young dudes sing about how high they are. These guys stick to themes. Their songs are sometimes hilarious, though, and the tubists and lead guitarists occasionally stumble across moments that’ll legitimately drop your jaw, regardless of how much THC is in your blood. As with so much else, it depends which strain you get.

Corridos about smoking weed aren’t new, either, but they do represent a shift, at least in terms of mainstream radio fare. A boyband like T3R Elemento might occasionally sing about real-life narcos and the marijuana production business, but unlike the older generation of corrideros — Gerardo Ortiz, El Komander, Noel Torres — they make no pretense that they’re singing from experience or proximity. Born and raised in the U.S., T3R Elemento sings about weed from a bilingual suburban U.S. high school point of view, a vantage their video iconography reinforces. It’s similar to what we saw with the Bay Area’s hyphy movimiento a decade ago. That movement also focused on drug and alcohol consumption, with little reference to Mexico or the drug production narratives that had long dominated corridos. Call these movements “assimilation” if you want, but they represent wilder, less predictable patterns of assimilation than political discourse or radio programmers have led us to expect.

Of course, Regional Mexican radio still plays frantic dressage polkas from Marco Flores, and plenty of maudlin slow jams from the likes of Banda MS. Old narcocorridos from Los Tigres rub shoulders with new ones from El Fantasma. Frantic emotions and spirited boasts will never die; but neither will the phenomenon of getting really baked, and then singing about it.

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Having accounted for trends, here are 11 Regional Mexican albums the Blog recommends, genre by genre — in several cases paired with their higher profile inferiors.
Continue reading “¡Lo Mejor de 2018!”

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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)”

Who’s On the Mexican Radio? (1/6/17)

joss-favela-768x403

It’s been six weeks or so since NorteñoBlog checked in with Mexico’s airwaves, so you might think all the songs would be different. ¡Qué sorpresa! Apparently as the year nears its end, the music industry’s release schedule slows down across the continent. Fewer than half the songs have disappeared from this normally fast-changing chart. Among the new ones:

nada-de-nada— At #9, Pepe Aguilar has invited his daughter Ángela sing backup on the lickety split banda tune “Nada de Nada,” written by José Luis Roma of the bro band Río Roma. It’s an impressive band workout, with tuba and percussion burbling along like synth polyrhythms and the horns draping sweeping melodic lines over everything. It’s also a fine meta-song about how the singer has writer’s block in the face of his lover’s anhedonia. (At least, her anhedonia towards him.) Both singers undersell the song, making it one of banda music’s rare Big Smart Cumbias. Aguilar acquits himself well for releasing one of 2016’s most overrated albums, and gets himself a second Pick to Click:

— Speaking of Picks to Click, Joss Favela is in at #16 with his previous champ “No Vuelvas a Llamarme.” It’s one of the ace songwriter’s top-shelf tunes, even if the chords borrow from Gerardo Ortiz’s “Archivos de Mi Vida” (and probably lots of other songs). 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. Add it to your shiny new Best Singles of 2017 lists post haste. VALE LA PENA

edwin-luna— At #8 we find the latest Very Important Video in Edwin Luna‘s crusade to become a famous actor, fill the world with brotherly love, and get real boned. Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? (1/6/17)”

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