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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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NorteñoBlog’s Top Singles of 2018: Enero – Abril

cornelio luis

After a month’s hiatus, we’re back! Please accept with the Blog’s apologies a Spotify playlist of the year’s best singles so far. (And here’s the bilingual version.)

NorteñoBlog’s recent lack of new content comes down to a couple factors, some excusable (extra work), some not (a new Minecraft addiction), and one germane to the Blog. If you’re near Seattle Saturday afternoon, stop by the Museum of Pop Culture, where I’ll be talking about Mexillenial gender presentation and how young dudes like Luis Coronel relate to their increasingly suburban fanbase. It’ll show up here eventually. In the meantime, let’s celebrate that Luis Coronel no longer sucks and has made one of the year’s best singles, in whose video he removes his shirt.

“Cambio de Papeles” – Cornelio Vega y Su Dinastia ft. Luis Coronel (Gerencia 360)
Under the tutelage of his famous papa, Cornelio Vega Jr. has emerged as a surprisingly gritty bandleader. He tosses off inventive accordion lines and sounds about a decade older than he is — just listening to him, you wouldn’t guess he’s got a mouth full of braces. In “Cambio de Papeles,” a stomping banda kiss-off, he pulls the prevoiusly personality-free Coronel up to his level — like, you actually believe these guys are jerks. Wronged jerks, but still jerks. Also worth checking out: the Coronel-less “Yo Soy,” a bouncy norteño number in whose charming video the band dresses up like teenage FES officers, trying to help their colleague win over a mujer. And then there’s “La Kushura,” in which Sr. Vega allows Jr. to hop aboard the latest high-flying musical trend: corridos verdes.

“Como Los Vaqueros” – Lenin Ramirez ft. Ulices Chaidez (DEL)
Is this super-catchy ballad with the “Stand By Me” chord changes a proud assertion of Mexicanness in a foreign land? Or a proud assertion of traditional machismo against the encroaching suburban void? Or an acknowledgement that the vaquero act has always been just that: an act? Or a really pretty and simple way to practice your reflexive verbs? ¡Sí sí sí y sí! When I heard it twice at the Aragon in February, everyone sang along, men and women, so there’s room for all God’s people inside the persona of the lovelorn vaquero. The backsplash in the video remains a thing of wonder.
Continue reading “NorteñoBlog’s Top Singles of 2018: Enero – Abril”

2017 Albums: Guitarras de la Sierra

Never a company to let a good trend go uncompiled, the beneveolent Fonovisa corporation has recently released Guitarras de la Sierra, a collection of songs from young sierreño trios — two guitars, plus either a tuba or bass holding down the bottom end. Las guitarras have been rocking la Sierra forever — NorteñoBlog has previously delved into the career of Breaking Bad corrideros Los Cuates, for instance, and several older comps called Guitarras de la Sierra exist, featuring guys like Miguel y Miguel and various iterations of Los Alegres. The differences, in our brave new post-Ariel Camacho world, are threefold:

1. The lineup of guitars plus tubas, without an accordion or drums, now constitutes a reliable hitmaking combination, not just on the radio but online;

2. This means you’re gonna hear more romantic sierreño songs than you would have in previous generations; and,

3. Sierreño musicians are more likely not just to be young men — Los Cuates started playing when they were only 14, after all — but to sing like young men; and specifically, like young pop stars, rather than salt-of-the-earth gallos who grew up on the ranch. In other words, not just musical idols who appeal to teens, but bona fide Teen Idols.

To get a sense of what I’m talking about, compare Los Cuates’ first top 40 hit, “Me Haces Falta,” with a song from the latest Guitarras comp, Crecer Germán’s YouTube hit “Lo Que Te Amo.” Los Cuates’ hit, recorded in their mid-20s, marked a gradual departure from their guitar and bass lineup: Gabriel Berrelleza was playing an accordion by this point, and they’d recently replaced their bass with a tuba. “Me Haces” was a skippily bereft lost love single, but with its delamatory melody and I-IV-V chords, it could have been a corrido with different lyrics:

But there’s no mistaking the subject matter of Germán’s song. Even without having the lyrics in front of you, you can tell this is a young man deep in the shit of romantic bereftitude. We know this because something in his tone screams “teenager in love” — he strains for emotional affect without having the vocal chops to get there. Couple this with the wandering melody, the minor chords in the progression, the brief but keening melismas, and you’ve got the commercial face of sierreño guitars 2017:

Is that all there is to the style? Of course not. Germán first sang corridos and love songs with his former band Alta Consigna, and in an entertaining attempt to be puro raza or something, he’s released a “Deluxe Edition” of his snoozy romantic 2016 album Hombre Afortunado (Fonovisa). Besides “Lo Que Te Amo,” the expanded edition contains a whole bunch of tributes to real-life narcos: “El Chapo,” “El Ingeniero,” “Kikil Caro,” etc. Not surprisingly, these songs are a whole lot more fun than the first, original half of the album, which was all about love. They’re faster, the requinto-tuba interplay is swinging, and Germán’s immature singing is much better suited to flat yellow journalism than to florid purple poetry. If the expansion was available on its own, it’d be an easy VALE LA PENA. But what am I saying? It’s 2017. You have the internet. Make whatever Crecer Germán album you want.

No such qualifications are necessary for the VALE LA PENA fourth studio album from Jesús Ojeda y Sus Parientes, El Amigo de Todos (Fonovisa — all these albums are on Fonovisa). Ojeda currently has a radio hit with the ballad “No Es un Juego,” inluded on the Guitarras comp. Relevant to point 3 above, its video is partially set in a Mexican high school, depicting a romance between two fresh-faced hetero cuties; Ojeda and his rhythm guitarist are the only ones in the video wearing cowboy hats. Written by the ubiquitous Joss Favela, “Juego” is the slowest song on Ojeda’s album, which is otherwise the most fun you’ll have pretending to be in the Sierra this year.

Sierreño albums can suffer from the saminess of folk records — after all, there’s only three instruments and no drums, and chord selection tends to be limited. Ojeda and his Parientes get around this problem by speeding up and complicating their rhythms, and by adding some inspired high harmonies. As a lead guitarist, Ojeda seems to have read and digested the “Stubbornness and the Single Note” chapter of Ben Ratliff’s Every Song Ever — he comes out of choruses obsessively bearing down on one repeated note until it bleeds, no doubt goosing audiences into raging ecstasy. If the Parientes remind me of any folk trio, it’s prime Kingston Trio, just sheer musical pleasure from top to bottom. Here they are playing their Mini Lic corrido “El Piñata,” today’s Pick to Click. (The licks are anything but mini, amirite?)

Continue reading “2017 Albums: Guitarras de la Sierra”

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)”

Keeping Up With El Komander

komander-cigar

When NorteñoBlog last checked in with Alfredo Ríos El Komander, it was right after el primero de enero and everyone was still pisteando. This is inexcusable. Komander is the premier singles artist of our time, as proven by the 21-song digital album El Komander 2015 Top 20 (Twiins), which showcases his tuba-driven norteño band. Under their fingers, the nerviest sentiments become off-the-cuff, and the silliest drinking songs swing like a hammer throw competition. Despite sounding like they’re inventing their music as they go, they rarely settle for less than consummate hooks and popcraft.

They also rarely stand still. Since that collection, Komander and his manos have released a bunch more songs. NorteñoBlog sleeps on them no longer!

komander-chefFirst up is “El Chef de las Cocinas,” in which Sr. Ríos introduces us to his stove. Turns out he runs a cracking meth biz in Sinaloa, where he can enjoy the fresh air while strolling through the hills surrounded by his army of ex-militia soldiers. His product is all locally sourced — “nada es ‘Made In China'” — and socially responsible, in that Komander doesn’t deal with people who are racist. I’m not ashamed to tell you I would vote El Komander’s meth operation for president over Donald Trump. Not that meth is so great, but Trump’s just a really low bar. Musically the song is an appealing but rote corrido, with most of its action coming from the tubist, who plays as a rock-hard extension of the drum kit, coordinating his hits and fills with the cymbals. VALE LA PENA

komander-mayitoWe move from there to some Mexican CNN type shit, or at least to some Hasty Cartel Googling. Continue reading “Keeping Up With El Komander”

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)”

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