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Ariel Camacho

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.

¡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?)”

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)”

¡Feliz 2017! (y ¡Lo Mejor de 2016!)

new-years-eve

Well, that was a terrible year, wasn’t it? But as disappointment turns to fear, fear into love, and love to resistance, let’s remember why you came to NorteñoBlog in the first place: accordions and tubas, cumbias and corridos, gritos and gallos, all racing around at breakneck speeds and knocking shit over.

Here are some of the most-clicked items from the blog’s most clicked year. Thanks for reading!

beto-with-fireBeto Cervantes D.E.P.
Juan Gabriel might have been the most iconic musician in Mexico, but for certain music fans — the kind who run internet searches for the details of sordid deaths — Beto Cervantes’ untimely death in September came as a shock. Or maybe not. Roughly one fifth of NorteñoBlog’s 2016 visitors came to read Manuel’s 2015 article on Beto, which covered his previous assassination attempt as well as some of his best songs.

tomen-notaEl Karma Karma Karma Comes Back to You Hard
Speaking of dead corrideros, Ariel Camacho continued to intrigue internet listeners. His own songs and those of his band, Los Plebes del Rancho, racked up enormous numbers of internet streams and had a stubborn presence on Billboard‘s Hot Latin Songs chart for most of the year. NorteñoBlog looked the Sierreño wave in the articles ¡Pisteando! (featuring Chuy Zuñiga), Wristwatch Porn and White Slavery (ft. “Tomen Nota”), and Attack of the Teen Idols. Buncha people also clicked on 2015’s Who Played It Better: Ariel Camacho or These Dudes?

los-inquietos-del-norte-requisito-americano-feat-marco-flores-y-la-numero-1-banda-jerezTrap Is Hyphy and Hyphy Is Trap
Speaking of stubborn, the twin phenomena of hyphy norteño (existence iffy) and the Hyphy record label (going strong!) continued to fascinate. NorteñoBlog covered both in the 2015 article Pronounced “Jai-Fi”: The Rise and Fall of Hyphy Norteño, and happily learned about Martín Patrón‘s hardcore “trap corridos” in the above linked Trap Is Hyphy and Hyphy Is Trap. We also heard from a band of hyphy-not-hyphy progenitors in Marco Flores y Los Inquietos Saluden a Su Madre.

el-americanoTop 5 W.T.F. Corrido Moments!
Speaking of corridos, Omar Ruiz‘s song “El Americano,” re-recorded with the kickass band Fuerza de Tijuana, became an unexpected U.S. radio hit and sent people to Manuel’s above-linked 2015 article, where you can see Ruiz singing the song to its subject, Boston narco George Jung. And, perhaps feeling guilty about all these corrido articles but nonetheless digging the new Tucanes tune, Josh wondered How Do We Hear Violent Corridos?

100 Regional Mexican Compilations Released in 2015
But it wasn’t all corridos! The article above looked at the curious prevalence of Regional Mexican compilation albums, even though such albums seem to be dying in the rest of the music industry. We also looked at the histories of the Mexican radio market in Houston and, in a still-popular 2015 article, Chicago. And if you ever wondered what’s behind the Houston Rodeo’s “Go Tejano Day” — well, here you go.

sergio-floresAlso — and be sure to pour one out for the late George Michael, who inspired the name of this feature — Yo. Quiero. Tu. Saxo.

NorteñoBlog’s Top Albums of 2016

fuerza-de-tijuana

Polkas and waltzes, yes. Accordions and brassy fanfares, check. Songs about impossible amor, violent negocios, and getting pisteando, you bet. But once you accept those rhythms, tone colors, and subjects as merely the constraints its talented artisans and occasional geniuses have given themselves to work around, Mexican regional music produced a pop scene as colorful and varied as any other. The difference between El Komander’s shaggy storytelling and La Maquinaria Norteña’s frenetic heartache pop is a contrast in visions. Give or take a tuba and a sax, they employ pretty much the same musical building blocks and arrive at wildly different results.

And both results are better than Intocable’s Highway, for NorteñoBlog’s dinero the most overrated norteño album of the year, insofar as these albums get rated at all. Intocable is a talented band, no question. They’ve refined a unique sound, and as they demonstrate over and over on Highway, they’re able to open songs with stylist feints as authoritative as their originals. (One sounds like ’60s handclap pop, one sounds like “Kashmir,” that sort of thing.)

The problem is, Intocable’s sound is as constrained as any other band’s; and once the opening feints end, the songs themselves are among Intocable’s most generic batch yet. We’re left with just more four-chord Intocable songs, melodies that allow Ricky Muñoz to stretch his throat to el cielo and noodle on his axe — sometimes for way too long — and a rhythm section lope that could have anchored any Intocable album in the past 20 years. It might be perverse to complain about sameyness in a genre that never wanders too far from accordion/brass polkas and waltzes, but great new bands like Fuerza de Tijuana and Norteño 4.5 (see below) are burrowing into that basic sound and digging up new rhythms and instrumental combinations. On Highway, Intocable offers few interesting musical ideas, and they barely try to work through their constraints. The most interesting ideas, those opening feints, only last a moment. (The great seven-minute exception, “En La Obscuridad,” ends with a Beatlesque psych coda. It’s cool, but it should tell you all you need to know about Intocable’s idea of “innovation.”) I don’t knock Intocable for giving their songs gimmicks; gimmicks, as we learn from Banda Rancho Nuevo, are good. But Intocable rarely has the musical courage to follow through on their gimmicks.

So here are 50 albums, including 13 from Mexico, that are better than Highway — less of a chore to play and full of surprises.

1. Esperanza Spalding – Emily’s D+Evolution (Concord) (indie, jazz-prog jaw dropper)
2. I.P.A. – I Just Did Say Something (Cuneiform) (indie, Norwegian jazz tone color fest with kickass rhythm section)
systema solar3. Systema Solar – Systema Solar (Nacional): This Colombian crew has about as much to do with norteño as Lil Jon does; but on the other hand, they sometimes play cumbias, Mexican-American radio digs cumbias, and this career overview of explosive raps and minimal dance experiments is undeniable. Plus one of the dudes says “Yeah!” exactly like Lil Jon — who incidentally scored his own Latin hit in 2016.


4. The 1975 – I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it (Dirty Hit/Interscope) (major, long-ass pop album equal parts hooks and pretentious bits — see my review of “The Sound”)

el komander top 205. El Komander – El Komander 2015 Top 20 (Twiins): To cap his year as North America’s most prolific and consistent singles artist, Alfredo Riós dropped this digital playlist to ring in 2016. How prolific is he? Top 20 actually contains 21 songs, and Sr. Riós has since released even more essential singles, notably the point-counterpoint “Desaparecido”/”El Mexico Americano.” His small, tuba-bottomed band remains a shambolic marvel; the musicians threaten to spill over the edges of the songs. This compilation stands with the greatest instantly incomplete mid-career summaries: think Madonna’s The Immaculate Collection or Garth Brooks’s The Hits.


6. Greg Ward – Touch My Beloved’s Thought (Greenleaf) (indie, Mingus tribute of nonstop invention)
7. Anaal Nathrakh – The Whole of the Law (Metal Blade) (indie, beautifully layered Satan metal)
8. Brandy Clark – Big Day In a Small Town (Warner Bros.) (major, country singer-storyteller)
9. Anna Webber’s Simple Trio — Binary (Skirl) (indie, sharp elbowed Canadian jazz)
10. YG – Still Brazy (Deluxe) (Def Jam) (major, West Coast rap)

bandononona11. Banda Rancho Viejo de Julio Aramburo La Bandononona – La Bandononona en Mi Rancho (Disa): Continue reading “NorteñoBlog’s Top Albums of 2016”

Desfile de Éxitos 12/24/16

omar_ruiz_el_quesito

Since NorteñoBlog last checked Billboard‘s Latin charts, the magazine has decided to give us all a gift: the website is now posting 20 more spots on its Regional Mexican airplay chart. There you will find such curiosities as:

Marco Antonio Solis crooning about a lying mujer while swathed in a toga of strings and synths (#29);

— a previous Pick to Click from Fuerza de Tijuana, about a former honcho in the Medellín Cartel (#31);

— more chipper puro sax bands than you can shake a slimy mouthpiece at (#23, #30, and #32) — all of them ruled by the saxophone colossus at #18, La Maquinaria Norteña;

— and even more clones of Ariel Camacho. Am I alone in thinking The Clones of Ariel Camacho would make a great Univision variety show? TWENTY SUPER SERIOUS YOUNG REQUINTO PLAYERS SING OF DEATH AND LOST LOVE, Omar Burgos furiously triple-tongues his tuba whenever someone gets voted off, and everyone forgets the names of their second guitarists. Could work. In any case, Nano Machado, Los de la Noria, Los Plebes, and Ulices Chaidez are all representing Sierreño music in the bottom 20, and Chaidez has two additional songs in the overall Hot Latin top 50. This fountain of youth isn’t drying up any time soon.

Also brightening up the bottom 20 is another dude who fooled around with Sierreño earlier in 2016: Adriel Favela, whose “Tomen Nota,” a duet with Los Del Arroyo, was a credible candidate for Wristwatch Porn Video of the Year. Continue reading “Desfile de Éxitos 12/24/16”

La Fiebre de Juan Gabriel (Desfile de Éxitos 9/17/16)

juan-gabriel

In the least surprising news since House Speaker Paul Ryan tossed his scruples into the Potomac and signed a legislative blood pact with Donald Trump, su padrino el diablo, this week’s Billboard Hot Latin chart finds itself dominated by the late Juan Gabriel. He’s got 10 of the top 50 songs, from recent work (his cover of CCR’s “Have You Seen the Rain” and a couple duet remakes) to standards like “Amor Eterno” and “Querida,” his highest placer at #4. The more I hear “Querida,” the more I’m convinced that it — and not Limahl’s “Neverending Story” — was the greatest song of 1984. Gabriel definitely has the bigger vocal range, but the song’s semi-improvised crescendo makes you work for its pleasure; it’s not a pure shot of mind-numbing knee-wobbling endorphin like Giorgio Moroder’s synths and chord changes. Fortunately, pleasure isn’t a zero-sum game! That said, there must only be one Pick to Click:

The magazine reports that most of Gabriel’s chart traffic comes from streams and sales. Indeed, while I’ve heard some Gabriel songs on the radio — “No Vale La Pena” (ironically?) brightened my day — his impact there is too diluted to affect the radio charts. Billboard also reported a 566% increase in JuanGa music on the radio, from 2,000 spins to 13,000 in the week following his death — which, if my math checks out, translates into approximately 26-to-30 million “audience impressions.”* Impressive! But to find its way onto a radio chart, a particular song would need to hog one tenth of those impressions to itself, and Gabriel’s fecundity made that unlikely. He simply had too many songs that people loved and wanted to hear.

Gabriel is far and away the best-charting dead singer this week. Continue reading “La Fiebre de Juan Gabriel (Desfile de Éxitos 9/17/16)”

Attack of the Teen Idols (Desfile de Éxitos 8/13/16)

ulices chaidez big

The world waits, selfie sticks and hair product poised and ready, for 20-year-old heartthrob Luis Coronel to release his next album. Uncharacteristically, NorteñoBlog will cut the guy some slack. Fielding a lawsuit from a former producer and going reggaetón would slow down anyone’s career. The last time I went reggaetón, the local barnyard animals went unmasturbated for months. It was chaos.

cheyo carrilloAfortunadamente, the job of “young dreamy norteño singer with enviable hair” is not so hard to fill, and this week’s charts have two hopefuls squeezing through the Coronel-shaped void. At #20 on the Regional Mexican radio chart is L.A.’s teen corridero Cheyo Carrillo, who rarely settles for the typical fade-with-fauxhawk look, instead coaxing volume and body with frightening abandon. As a pre-teen, his accordion skills landed him a gig with Los Bukanas de Culiacán, and then with El Komander. This got him noticed by Komander’s label bosses and noted amoral purveyors of candy everybody wants, the Valenzuela Twiins. NorteñoBlog slept on last year’s self-titled debut album (on Twiins-affiliated La Disco Music), which included an authoritative version of Komander’s “Soy de Rancho,” but desafortunadamente I haven’t made the same mistake with this new single, the romantic banda snooze “No Es Normal,” released by Fonovisa and written by industry lifer Adrian Pieragostino. The video features a young, apparently dorky woman who wears glasses but is secretly hot, and lots of slow motion chewing. The song features some rote brass charts. Es normal, pero NO ES VALE LA PENA. Continue reading “Attack of the Teen Idols (Desfile de Éxitos 8/13/16)”

Desfile de Éxitos 7/9/16

lopez castro

What’s this? The Singles Jukebox wrote about J Balvin’s “Bobo” and the next day it went to #1 on the Hot Latin chart? Those are some mighty impressive powers of persuasion/prognostication/poincidence we’ve got. Too bad it’s such a generic song. (My dumb joke review, which nonetheless taught me a useful idiom: “David Brooks no le llega ni a la suela de los zapatos.”) But with three songs in the top 30, Balvin continues to dominate this chart. His new one, “Safari,” features Pharrell murmuring the hook in Spanish and fewer chords than even “Bobo,” but its smooth and hypnotic cumbia beat almost snuck it up to Pick to Click status. Especially since it’s a slow week for banda and norteño debuts. The praise, it is so faint.

¡Pero! If you scan the lower reaches of the Hot Latin top 25 and top 50, you’ll see another act improbably continuing to dominate after several months: Los Plebes Del Rancho de Ariel Camacho, the Sierreño trio that’s fronted by teenager José Manuel Lopez Castro, named for its previous deceased frontman Ariel Camacho, and secretly led by the flabbergasting chops and rhythmic imagination of tubist Omar Burgos. And they continue to dominate even after “DEL Negociante” — their most distinctive song, a corrido ode to their label boss — has fallen off the charts. Los Plebes land four songs inside the top 50 this week, more even than Sr. Bobo. They’re primarily an online phenomenon, their popularity driven by streams and downloads more than radio play. Like their music, their videos mix antiquity with novelty — young lovers with iPhones standing among really old Mexican buildings, for instance, or the band hanging out in Lopez Castro’s high school practice room, dressed in their caballero suits. (Not unlike the choir kids who hide inside the local high school practice rooms, wearing their Megadeth t-shirts.) Listening again to their album Recuerden Mi Estilo, which includes all these songs, I’m struck less by its sameiness and more by the endless intricate rhythms unfolding between the requinto and the tuba. So Pick to Click status this week goes to “El Mentado,” a padrino-y-negocios tune where Burgos screams, revs, and otherwise abuses his axe while never leaving the rhythmic sway.

Continue reading “Desfile de Éxitos 7/9/16”

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