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Banda Rancho Viejo

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

coronel-kiss

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)”

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”

NorteñoBlog’s Top Singles of 2016: Enero – Marzo

el armenta

Please excuse the note of shame in NorteñoBlog’s voice, but 2016 has gotten off to a more… focused start than last year. On the list (and YouTube playlist!) that follows, you’ll find no bands devoted to cumbia, no musicians from outside la patria, and — despite my doubtless inadequate searching — only one woman. (Karla Luna snuck on at the end, with a song that might end up growing on me. And Helen Ochoa‘s album deserves a listen.) What we’ve got here is nine norteño songs and six banda tunes by dudes who are pretty open about their lusts — if not for las mujeres, then for power and fancy wristwatches. But their music is no less compelling, because within those confines live several worlds of possibility.

El Armenta‘s big dumb cumbia (#1), Remmy Valenzuela‘s power ballad (#8), and Banda Pequeños Musical‘s pan flute monstrosity (#15) are all romantic banda songs that find vastly different paths to greatness. Or near greatness. The same thing happens on the norteño side. Though everyone’s working the same genre turf, Adriel Favela‘s guitar-saturated version of a new corrido standard (#3) couldn’t sound further from the Intocable love song (#10) with the distorted electric guitar and the show-offy accordion solo, as precise and memorable as a prime Van Halen break. Regional Mexican music pitches a bigger and more inventive tent than half the U.S. political system. Speaking of which, I sort of feel like El Armenta’s video, in which grotesque rubber-faced men enact an inexplicable ritual while carrying big sticks, gives us a terrifying preview of June’s Republican convention. At least nobody dies from the sticks.

1. El Armenta“El Perro Se Soltó” (Armenta)
Of all the big dumb banda cumbias I’ve heard this year, “El Perro” is the best, with horns and clarinets blaring all over the place and a churning beat that doesn’t quit until the perro in question barks at the end. The sound’s a little clipped in the head-scratcher of a video, which only adds to the Lynchian daytime nightmare feel of the whole endeavor. Continue reading “NorteñoBlog’s Top Singles of 2016: Enero – Marzo”

Archivos de 2000

rogelio martinez

Chart geeks know the story of “Macarena”‘s long climb to number one on Billboard‘s Hot 100 — this song was giving people’s cuerpos alegria for a record-breaking 33 weeks (the chafing!) before it hit the top spot, and it had to undergo remix to get there. But things move even slower on the genre charts. Chris Young’s ode to the “Voices” in his head was on the Hot Country Songs chart for almost a year, 51 weeks, before it hit #1 in 2011. And among all the Latin charts, the longest climb to #1 — 43 weeks — took place in 2000-01 on Regional Mexican Songs, with a banda cover of Shania Twain.

When Chicago’s WOJO changed its format to regional Mexican on September 25, 2000, Rogelio Martínez’s “Y Sigues Siendo Tu” was moving up at #5, but it still had more than three months to go before it’d reach the top. (It peaked at #8 on the overall Hot Latin chart, and I’m pretty sure I remember hearing it on Latin pop radio at the time, rare for banda songs.) Musically it’s really good, though you should always keep in mind that I’m a rockist gringo whose musical wheelhouse revolves around hair metal. There are some momentum-killing horn blares in the verses, but the momentum is still undeniable, and the banda achieves it by simulating a slow backbeat with the horns. The tuba is the kick drum, the soft trumpet stabs are the snare, and though they’re helped out by a subtle drum kit, the horns do most of the rhythmic work. This remains an excellent technique for bandas who want to play power ballads, as when Banda Rancho Viejo plays an Espinoza Paz song. The composite brass rhythm basically comes out sounding like “We Will Rock You.”

Springing from Wednesday’s post, these were Billboard‘s top regional Mexican songs in the issue dated Sept. 23, 2000. Besides Martínez/Twain, the pick to click is probably Límite’s “Por Encima De Todo,” a minor key Tejano cumbia with a good accordion solo and sharp singing from Alicia Villarreal.

1. “En Cada Gota de Mi Sangre” – Conjunto Primavera (#12 Hot Latin)
2. “Yo Se Que Te Acordaras” – Banda El Recodo (#13 Hot Latin)
3. “De Paisano A Paisano” – Los Tigres Del Norte (#15 Hot Latin)
4. “Eras Todo Para Mi” – Los Temerarios (#16 Hot Latin)
5. “Y Sigues Siendo Tu” – Rogelio Martinez (#10 Hot Latin)
6. “Secreto De Amor” – Joan Sebastian (#4 Hot Latin)
7. “Pa’ Que Son Pasiones” – Tiranos Del Norte (#20 Hot Latin)
8. “Por Encima De Todo” – Límite (#22 Hot Latin)
9. “Te Soñé” – El Coyote y Su Banda Tierra Santa (#23 Hot Latin) (These two words they swear to you!)
10. “A Ella” – El Poder Del Norte (#25 Hot Latin)
11. “No Puedo Olvidar Tu Voz” – El Coyote y Su Banda Tierra Santa (#27 Hot Latin)
12. “Sin Ti No Se Vivir” – Los Angeles Azules (#29 Hot Latin)
13. “Tu Y Las Nubes” – Lupillo Rivera (#30 Hot Latin)
14. “El Liston de Tu Pelo” – Los Angeles Azules
15. “Mentirosa” – Los Rieleros Del Norte (#33 Hot Latin)

… and, in at #40 on Hot Latin, it’s “Los Dos Zacatecanos” by Banda Machos.

¡Nuevo!

super flamazos

It’s the first week of the year and pickings are slimmer than the mota supply in Wisconsin. El Komander’s up to a million views of his tossed-off kiss-off “Malditas Ganas” (Twiins), his sprechtstimme loose as he casually mentions “Soy De Rancho,” reminding the woman he can’t forget that nobody can forget him these days either. (At least I think that’s what’s going on.)

At the other end of the chart count spectrum, Los Elegantes de la Banda have broken 100 views with “El Corrido del Jr.” (self-released), a solid three verse banda corrido about (I’m guessing) someone whose Dad doesn’t pay much income tax. The tuba player adroitly executes a triplet line against the horn tutti; a pity the arranger made everyone execute that part the exact same way over and over.

MultiMusic has recently released two albums that I record here for future reference: a self-titled album by Carlos Y José, and a three-disc retrospective, Súper Flamazos, by the corrido group Los Flamers. Both acts have catalogs a mile long, but only Los Flamers have three different albums called Súper Flamazos.

And then there’s Fonovisa, summing up last year with four albums of #1’s 2014: one each for corridos, norteño, banda, and Latin, the last of which doesn’t really concern us except insofar as it contains a song written by Horacio Palencia. (Also Iggy Azalea’s “Problem” with guest star J. Balvin, Juanes’s fine “La Luz,” and everybody’s “Bailando.” It’s Billboard’s favorite Latin song of the year! Puzzling!) Palencia’s all over the banda disc, too, with four songs to his credit — more than even our friend Luciano Luna — including “Aqui Estoy Yo,” which Palencia sings. (And not very well!) The best of his lot is probably Banda Rancho Viejo’s “Una Entre Un Millón” from their 2013 album of the same name. The corridos disc, containing three of Calibre 50’s speedier efforts, looks like a keeper.

¡Nuevo!

los robleslos robles 2

Abundant biggish names this week, led by:

Banda Rancho Viejo – Dejando Huella (Disa)
Lawyer-turned-producer Fernando Camacho’s LATEST latest moneymaking scheme involves throwing songs at this group of colts, whose 2013 album I enjoyed a lot. Their new album leads with the meh single “De Por Vida,” but on first listen that’s the meh-est thing about it. The highlights are mostly covers: Alfredito Olivas’s “Con La Novedad,” Banda El Mexicano’s delirious study in phonemic differentiation “Ma, Me, Mi, Mo, Mu,” and best of all, Banda Brava’s even more delirious “Cumbia Con Opera,” a 1995 novelty of operatic interpolations that sounds like super-competent junior high kids goofing around. I’m enough of a hick that I find this hilarious.

Voz De Mando – Levantado Polvadera [Deluxe] (Afinarte/Sony)
You remember them — last week labelmates Dueto Consntido were playing “El Rolex” live in front of Voz De Mando’s drum kit. The title song has gone Top 20 Hot Latin, but the sixth-or-so full length by this tuba-anchored corrido band is disappointing, at least on first listen. Like Calibre 50 and LOS! BuiTRES!, whenever they try to break up their corrido onslaught with romantic ballads, their instruments have trouble filling the sonic space. Anemia ensues. Obviously the listening public disagrees with me because they’ve scored some big romantic hits.

Los Robles Del Norte – El Dinero (Frontera)
Los Robles already released one 2014 album, Desde Ojinagua Pal Mundo, with the exact same cover. Four months later, without even bothering to remove the old title, they’ve simply slapped a big pink “EL DINERO” on there and released 10 different songs. This is obviously as radical an act of commodification and semiotic collapse as anything Andy Warhol ever tried. First impression: they sound OK.

Los Rodriguez De Sinaloa – Me Miran Por Mayo (Hyphy)
Though I’ve never listened to a full album by this duo-plus-quartet, I’ve had a soft spot for them since they appeared on Hyphy’s El Corrido VIP comp a couple years ago. They were the most polished of the four bands on that collection, young go-getters while everyone else was bouncing off the cacti, but they were still more raucous than most major label corrido bands. Having since been nominated for “Corrido of the Year” at the Premios De La Radio, they’re back with this promising 16-songer. Lead single is a fast “¡Ay Chiquita!” number called “Lo Bonito De Tenerte,” pleasantly rambunctious.

Also new:
Alejandro Fernández – Confidencias Reales (Fonovisa)
Grupo Exterminador – Es Tiempo De Exterminador (Universal Latino)

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