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Cardenales de Nuevo Leon

¡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!”

Who’s On the Mexican Radio? (starring Alicia Villarreal, Christian Nodal, Joss Favela, y más)

jose villarreal

As promised, Edwin Luna and his perpetually nascent acting chops appear at #10 on this week’s busy Mexican radio chart with the giggle inducing “Fíjate Que Sí.” Actually, it might only induce giggles if you watch the video, let’s see here… [Listens to the song in another tab.] JAJAJAJA! Oh, Edwin Luna. You are an international camp treasure. The man draws out his singing and even his spoken interludes until the words congeal into a sticky mass. They say he aspirates agave nectar.

me-deje-llevar-christian-nodalOther entries previously lauded by NorteñoBlog include man-myth-legend El Fantasma at #17, and whirling fount of Terpsichore Marco Flores doing his devil dance at #19. At #14 we find the latest mariacheño-or-whatever romantic ballad from Christian Nodal, still sounding older than his teenaged years. In “Me Dejé Llevar,” the title track of his overrated 2017 debut album, Nodal laments getting carried away by passion for a mujer, which seems to have made him possessive and scummy. The music doesn’t sound like possessive scumminess; it’s his patented mix of dull, syncopation-free guitars with swoony horns, strings, and accordion. The video, though, is a primo cultural artifact. First we see the macho caballero with hat, cigar, and sturdy country mansion; then we’re whisked behind the scenes into some abstract phantasmagoria of amor, where the now hatless Nodal and a nearly naked mujer enact the ritualized dance steps of love inside a neon square, floating amid darkness. THE DARKNESS OF THE CABELLERO’S OWN HEART, you suggest? The Blog won’t argue with you, except to say: NO VALE LA PENA.

Better is the song at #11. “Sentimientos” is a likeable minor key cumbia from Alicia Villarreal’s 2017 album; it’s both a cover of Villarreal’s 20-year-old Grupo Limite hit, and a duet with her fellow mexicana María José. In both their studio rendition and in this live video, Villarreal and José work up a mariacheño head of steam like Nodal never dreamed. There’s just as much string/accordion swooning, but a much kickier beat and the knowing winks that appear when you find yourself in your 40s, mooning “Ahhhh…. FEELINGS.” Pick to Click!

ese-400x400If these newfangled stylistic blends aren’t your thing and you long for some straight-down-the-middle chapado-a-la-antigua norteño, look no further than #20
Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? (starring Alicia Villarreal, Christian Nodal, Joss Favela, y más)”

Desfile de Hombres… AGAIN (starring Becky G, Aida Cuevas, Siggno, y más)

siggno (1)

The Billboard charts are boring this week, so please excuse the following disjointed rant…

As NorteñoBlog suggested last post, the Grammys’ approach to Mexican music is fairly ridiculous. The Grammys themselves are ridiculous — although if we forget that they’re supposed to be rewarding the best music, and instead see them as the dying public gasps of an increasingly irrelevant trade organization, with Neil Portnow facing down exciting existential dilemmas around every corner like Sarah journeying through the Labyrinth… well, I dunno if that helps.

aida cuevas grammyAND YET. For many musicians, especially the ones who don’t make much money, the Grammys are not ridiculous. Or maybe not merely ridiculous, but also useful. Take ranchera lifer Aida Cuevas, who won the Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano), against a field of men, for her independently released Arrieros Somos – Sesiones Acústicas. Cuevas used her untelevised Grammy moment to flaunt her charro outfit and to urge Mexican women to speak out against sexual harassment. I won’t pretend to enjoy this particular album of hers, but if we accept that both the Grammy awards and the Blog have slightly less aesthetic authority than one of those plastic duck bobbing contests at a carnival, my opinion doesn’t matter. Cuevas is a talented singer who releases her own music and received a podium. She made the most of her moment. The Mexican music world needs to let in more people like her.

So do the airwaves. If you study last week’s Regional Mexican airplay list, below, you’ll see Chiquis Rivera has dropped off, to be replaced by another token woman: Becky G, whose decidedly non-regional ode to older men, “Mayores,” somehow became the 40th most-played song on regional stations. (This week — not shown due to Blog laziness — she moves up to #22.)

Look, I know studying musicians’ chart positions is a ridiculous exercise. The charts rarely have anything to do with aesthetic quality, and observing the cultural hegemony of “Despacito” is only interesting for a day or so. But the charts do reflect who’s getting paid, and a complete absence of women tells you something unflattering about the values of the industry’s gatekeepers. What will it take to get actual norteño singers like Victoria “La Mala” or Laura Denisse onto the radio — or to get Diana Reyes or Los Horoscopos or Alicia Villarreal back on the radio?

While the Blog organizes a call-in campaign, let’s look at whose new songs are getting played. Radio station billboard anchor Gerardo Ortiz and whirling fount of Terpsichore Marco Flores have brought their VALE LA PENA Mexican hits to El Norte. Los Cardenales de Nuevo León and Los Huracanes del Norte head up the geriatric “beloved by Becky G” contingent with some straight-down-the-middle accordion lopes.

siggno que me amasBest of all: Somehow the Blog hasn’t yet noted “Que Me Amas,” a sweet love song from noted eyeliner-and-metal-t-shirt models Siggno. The song starts with “We Will Rock You”-style stadium stomping and distorted guitar, before switching to a midtempo accordion groove that splits the difference between backbeat and polka. You’ve heard Intocable pull this same trick, but Siggno does it better, becuase they keep switching back and forth. The accordion solo and closing drum fusillade are also jarringly good, enough to kick Siggno into coveted Pick to Click status:

And finally, the Blog would be remiss to not point out DJ Kass and his pesky viral hit “Scooby-Doo Pa! Pa!”, according to the Daily Mail the new “Harlem Shake” our nation deserves.
Continue reading “Desfile de Hombres… AGAIN (starring Becky G, Aida Cuevas, Siggno, y más)”

100 Regional Mexican Compilations Released in 2015

calibre 50 mejor

The hyper-abundant compilation album is one of the more bewildering aspects of the Regional Mexican music industry. There are a LOT of them — witness this Allmusic list of more than 50 Conjunto Primavera comps since 1995, released on eight different record labels. Lately some music-writer friends and acquaintances have observed a dearth of compilation albums in recent years, given listeners’ ability to cherrypick their own songs on streaming sites. NorteñoBlog does not dispute this observation; I’ll only add that the compilation market in Regional Mexican is still going strong. This year saw four new Primavera comps, on two different labels. Who’s buying these things? Don’t they already own all these songs?

Without answering these questions, NorteñoBlog presents this list of 100 single- (or, in the case of Sony’s Frente a Frente series, double-) artist comps released on CD in 2015. It doesn’t include multi-artist comps like Fonovisa’s annual Radio Éxitos: Discos Del Año series. This list is incomplete; I’m pretty sure I could find more by scouring the catalogs of indie labels Select-O-Hits and D&O.

Some items of interest: Continue reading “100 Regional Mexican Compilations Released in 2015”

¿Qué Estamos Escuchando?

remex-music

The common thread this week is Remex Music, an indie label seemingly without major distribution — someone correct me if I’m wrong — and whose Youtube channel lords over other labels’ view counts like Lorde. 109 million for “La Buena Y La Mala” by Banda Tierra Sagrada! (See below!) Of course, hits don’t necessarily make for quality, but Remex’s folks seem scrappy and good, at least in the following examples:

“Mi Padrino El Diablo” – La Trakalosa De Monterrey
Satan’s got his hand in those 36 million views (because 36 is six sixes, or two marks of the beast, you see) and possibly in that #12-and-climbing position on Billboard’s Regional Mexican chart (don’t even ask about the numerological significance there). “Mi Padrino” is the story of a young kid, chased from home by an abusive padre and sleeping on the streets, until “un compa de negro [se toca] la frente”… “a companion of black touches his forehead.” Creepy! Turns out to be the Devil aka the Godfather, and he takes our friend’s soul in return for untold wealth and power, so now our friend sits pretty like Tom Hagen and/or Robert Johnson. The music’s a cheerful blend of small band with big banda, subtler than this year’s similar mashups from LOS! BuiTRES!, and if the brass riff’s recycled, the singers sell it like it’s brand new.
VALE LA PENA

“Soy Un Desmadre” – Banda Tierra Sagrada ft. Marco Flores
Wild with tempo shifts and Marco Flores’s charismatic reed of a voice, these Remex bros are apparently bad news if you have the misfortune to let them enter your home, but give ‘em two and a half minutes and they’ll probably get a wriggly foot in the door. #11 RegMex and climbing.
VALE LA PENA

“De Norte A Sur” – Cardenales de Nuevo Leon
The lope of love. This charming tune only reached #19 RegMex back in 2012, but Chicago radio stations still play the heck out of it and why not. If you’re trying to learn Spanish it’s got a chronological progression of well-enunciated nouns — BEsos to PREso to coraZOOOOON to CUERpos to SEXo — that’ll help you catch some rockin’ mnemonia. The boogie woogie flew from singer Cesareo Sánchez many moons ago, but his performance manages lived-in confidence without doing much at all, almost as if he’s advising the horny young couple in the video. He’s seen all this before.
VALE LA PENA

“Soy El Mismo” – Prince Royce and Roberto Tapia
It can’t all be good news, and this ain’t Remex. While the bachata/banda mashup is mildly intriguing, especially during the sections where the two different rhythms blat along without apparent regard for one another, it’s not much of a song. And anyway, Gerardo Ortíz already did the banda plus bachata thing more gorgeously on last year’s “Eres Una Niña,” just now climbing the chart. These two showbizzers debuted the song on La Voz Kids, which they co-host. “Moves Like Jagger” wasn’t much of a song either.
NO VALE LA PENA

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