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Intocable

Desfile de Éxitos 6/9/18 (starring Los Ángeles Azules, Intocable, corridos verdes, y más)

intocable smoke

The corridos verdes boomlet has coughed up a number of giggle-inducing phenomena. With his weedy voice, affected swagger, and perpetually nascent mustache, Kristopher Nava of T3R Elemento (#30 at U.S. Regional Mexican radio) is the genre’s McLovin; his different videos show him hobnobbing among indifferent high school girls and the kushy environs of club VIPs. Meanwhile, the mysterious El De La Guitarra (#26 and #40 Hot Latin, #20 at radio) performs as a diabolical smiley face, and if anyone can remember his real name, they’re not telling.

rolling oneAnd then there’s the new joint from Lenin Ramirez ft. T3R Elemento: “Rolling One,” #38 at radio. The song is fine, a rolling norteño waltz with lots of guitar solos compensating for a paper-thin melody. The video is perhaps the highest AF artifact ever filmed. As in, the people who made the video were obviously baked. The video is clearly aimed at people who are stoned. It’s possible that simply watching the video gives you a tropical contact high. (For instance, you might start quoting terrible Beach Boys songs.) Consider that it contains the following elements, inexplicable unless we consult noted cannabis afficionado Occam, last seen using his razor to slice traffic tickets into makeshift rolling papers:

1. A golden assault rifle bong;
2. Numerous mind-blowing shots of people escaping the bounds of the black letterbox bars (IT’S LIKE 3-D ONLY NOT);
3. Lenin Ramirez’s paisley sun-god shirt, itself a mind-altering substance;
4. Especially when he and four bikini-clad, blunt-smoking women ride horses down the beach;
5. Several shots with scratchy or digitally distressed film (IT’S LIKE FOUND FOOTAGE ONLY NOT);
6. A freakin’ tololoche on a boat;
7. A visit to Lenin Ramirez and Kristopher Nava’s industrial cannabis greenhouse;
8. Slow-mo reverse footage of bikini-clad women sucking smoke back into their mouths (IT’S LIKE SPECIAL EFFECTS ONLY NOT);
9. What appears to be a henna tattoo of a wolf;
10. Lyrical shoutouts to marijuana, 420, OG Kush, Colorado, etc., which — as anyone who’s ever been high, or been around high people, knows — is all the high can talk about.

Everything about this video screams both, “Whatever, man, it seemed like a good idea at the time,” and, “Dude, remember that time we were so wasted?” VALE LA PENA, because as I said it’s got lots of guitar solos.

virlan garciaDrowing his sorrows with a different drug, at #39 on the radio we find the new sierreño weeper from hatless 20-year-old lothario Virlán García, who asks the pitiful musical question “En Donde Esta Tu Amor?” Since his mujer left his bed unattended, he’s been searching for her up and down the premises of his stately mansion, chasing her aroma with un vaso de tequila caliente, and — if we can believe the video — hiding all his furniture under dropcloths. NOT UNLIKE HOW THE ORNATE FURNITURE OF HIS HEART HAS BECOME HIDDEN AND USELESS, under the… er… DROPCLOTHS OF MUJER-LESS ANHEDONIA. In the video’s closing scene he sits at the edge of his in-ground swimming pool, singing softly to himself, his tequila vaso apparently bottomless. For his next video, Garcia will either accidentally drown or return inside, to wander among his dusty belongings and go full Havisham. NO VALE LA PENA

NorteñoBlog is ambivalent about many subjects — the usefulness of Octavio Paz’s macho metaphors, the necessity of blogging on a regular basis, the social and musical value of excellent music videos about cockfighting. But nowhere is the Blog’s ambivalence more felt than on the topic of Intocable.
Continue reading “Desfile de Éxitos 6/9/18 (starring Los Ángeles Azules, Intocable, corridos verdes, y más)”

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Pesado flirts with angels, interrogates machismo

presentaciones-pesado-2018

You know how it is. One week you’re delivering a PowerPoint presentation on how young hat acts deconstruct traditional machismo (Coming soon! Watch this space!), then the next week you’re looking up old hat acts on Allmusic.com when you run across an intriguing passage like this:

“[Pesado] struck again quickly with [their 2007 album] Gracias por Tu Amor, a controversial album that challenged physical abuse and the traditional notions of male machismo in Latin America. The album and its title track single were the subject of hot discussion on radio and television talk shows, but they only served to grow sales and airplay.”

gracias por tu amorNorteñoBlog is always hungry for some polémica, but in this case we need to award Jason Ankeny with a well-earned [citation needed], because I can’t find any evidence of the controversy to which he alludes. Furthermore, Pesado’s song “Gracias Por Tu Amor” hardly seems like anything to get worked up over. Its video is a head-scratching depiction of (I think) a poor working-class man dreaming of a better life for his family before he has a heart attack on the job and as a result gets to move into a nice suburban home. (Workers’ comp! God bless unions.) That plot is nowhere to be found in the song’s lyric, which mentions only that the narrator’s amor is an angel from heaven and the living image of love. It’s a midtempo Intocablish thing, pretty but innocuous. I’m having trouble imagining why all the fuss, unless there were some anti-angel haters running their mouths, as anti-angel haters will.

But this does demonstrate something useful: Before today’s Mexillennials were interrogating machismo with their Izod polo shirts and their tears, Pesado was on the case. The Nuevo León quartet/quintet got started in 1993, around the same time as Intocable, and the two bands were soon celebrated as modern updates on trad vaquero accordion slingers. In a 2003 Billboard article, Ramiro Burr lumped them in with Costumbre, Duelo, Iman, and the sensitive mascaraed metalheads in Siggno, writing, “These acts sound as if they would rather whisper in their girlfriends’ ears than raise hell with the guys.” They got big in the years following Selena’s death, when the fairly gender-balanced Tejano style was giving way to more male-dominated norteño as the central sound of regional Mexican music. Burr quoted a San Antonio program director: “There is a large, disenfranchised Tejano community that feels comfortable with these artists that are not really defined as Tejano or traditional norteño. The [new groups] just have a fresh sound. It also helps that many… have lyrics that relate to younger audiences.”

los angeles existenI mention all this because Pesado has a new album, Los Ángeles Existen (Remex). Its title single is apparently meant to convince the haters that, yes, angels from heaven do exist, and, yes, they want to make out with the guys in Pesado. While this is not outside the realm of possibility, Pesado’s songs have trouble transcending pleasantness, let alone our drab earthbound reality. The album’s best single is probably last year’s “No Yo Tengo Remedio,” which has a soaring chorus melody and extremely dialed-in rhythm section, not unlike (you guessed it) Intocable. On “Ojitos Chiquitos,” they even pull the ol’ ‘Cable trick of starting with some rockin’ distorted guitar, before settling into the familiar watered-down cumbia lope. But faithful readers know the Blog is maddeningly ambivalent when it comes to Intocable, while acknowledging they remain the gold standard among this particular strain of norteño — which, right, is adored by throngs of people.

So… RSTG Intocable? Pesado flirts with angels; after some cursory listening, the Blog is flirting with calling Los Ángeles Existen NO VALE LA PENA. Their importance in mediating machismo between hardcore vaqueros and the new jack diaspora, though, won’t be denied. Now we just have to figure out how they could ever be considered controversial…

La Gran Purga (Desfile de Éxitos 9/2/17)

t3r elemento

It would become known as the Great Purge of 2017. A complex cultural exchange, once teeming with diverse reflections of the human experience, suddenly found itself ruled by a simplistic dictator. Well, ok, not strictly a “dictator” — after all, the people bestowed upon this ruler unprecedented power. But what began as novelty soon turned to tedium, then oppression, as one by one anyone who didn’t resemble our fearless leader began to vanish. To explain away those who disappeared, there was always a reasonable enough excuse. They promoted violence rather than unity. They were part of the old order; there was no room for them in our new, more streamlined era. If they refused to conform to the new paradigm, more supple individuals could easily be found to take their places.

And THAT, amigos, is how we went from having 17 regional Mexican songs on Billboard‘s Hot Latin chart six weeks ago, to only eight-count-’em-eight this week.

17 was already low, but 8/50 is the lowest portion in NorteñoBlog’s almost three-year history. When I started following this particular desfile, eight out of the top 25 was on the low side. The culprit, I’ve hypothesized, is One Song To Rule Them All “Despacito,” which, due to its unprecedented bigness, is sweeping along other songs that have the good fortune to sound like “Despacito.” Sooner or later, once we impeach “Despacito” from its perilous perch, I predict some of the fine radio hits on the Regional Mexican chart will make their way back to Hot Latin, to leaven the eternal boot-stomp of the club bangers.

Hits like…

tal-como-eresLuis Coronel’s mid-tempo puppy-dog banda ballad “Tal Como Eres,” at #20 RegMex airplay, which, in typical Coronel fashion, exalts a woman whose boot he does not feel competent to lick, this time swiping a keening hook from Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face.” (“Can’t read my, can’t read myyyy…”) Thing is, this usually undistinguished singer has never keened so well, and the brass arrangement is overstuffed with flourishes of its own. You could argue Coronel pioneered the current wave of norteño teen idols, but this is the first time I’ve wondered whether I might enjoy a new Luis Coronel album. VALE LA PENA

Roberto Tapia - Vamos A Darnos Un TiempoEven better is #27, the breakup banda “Vamos a Darnos un Tiempo” by blog favorite Roberto Tapia, who sounds great whether he’s doing backbeat banda pop or more neo-trad waltzes. “Vamos” falls squarely into the latter category, and the guitar-laced horn charts are chunky and violent, blat against blat, the better to depict the emotional violence wreaked by the narrator and his mujer upon one another. Although, when Tapia sails into his upper register to mourn the good times, you never doubt that he at least wants to regret leaving her. Pick to Click!

corona de rosasSince NorteñoBlog has been NorteñoSlacking these past few weeks, a second Pick to Click is in order. At #38 we find two more teen idols, this time from the DEL Records stable of unquestionably well-treated and unexploited performers: Kevin Ortiz, the middling younger brother of Gerardo, and sierreño guitar hotshot Ulices Chaidez. They’re dueting on “Corona de Rosas,” a country-ish story song. A young muchacho leaves the farm to seek his fortune. When he returns home wearing his new, fancy clothes, he finds his padre has died, buried beneath the titular corona. That’s the whole song — but in that simplicity lies all the complexity of the immigration narrative, echoing the apostle Luke’s Prodigal Son story, and even chased with a bit of “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” The guitar/horn rhythms of the enhanced sierreño band pull off the same simple/complex trick. Kevin’s best song yet:

Also interesting:
Continue reading “La Gran Purga (Desfile de Éxitos 9/2/17)”

Lo Mejor de 2016: Where the Action Is

The Grammys and the Mexican government would very much like Mexico’s musical output to consist of genteel roots music. Fortunately, NorteñoBlog’s annual playlist 2016 VALE LA PENA shows that Mexican-American musicians have other ideas.

Our playlist has El Komander singing about immigration in two very different, equally urgent songs: once from the vantage point of a mother whose son is missing, and once as a proudly binational drug dealer. The playlist includes a defiant statement of national pride from Los Inquietos and Marco Flores. There are love songs from guitar bands, brass bands, accordion bands, sax bands, and synth bands.  El Bebeto and Banda Tierra Sagrada stop by to plug liquor; Fuerza de Tijuana celebrates two real-life American narcos. The guys in Los Titanes de Durango drive way too fast. La Rumorosa curses a terrible boyfriend; Intocable mourns absent amor with distorted guitar and a smoking accordion solo. At the top of the list, El Armenta offers a low-fi Lynchian nightmare of a cumbia about his girlfriend’s dog. All in all, it’s as energetic and varied as any single-genre playlist you’re likely to find.

THIS, Grammy voters, is where the action is.

———————————————–

vicente-un-aztecaEven as NorteñoBlog congratulates living legend Vicente Fernández on winning his third Grammy for Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano) (But Not Including Grupero ‘Cause That Shit Suuuuuuuux), we gotta note that this particular win is lame in a very Grammy-ish way. Continue reading “Lo Mejor de 2016: Where the Action Is”

Los Ritmos de Remex Records

montez

When NorteñoBlog last caught up with Remex Records, the YouTube telenovela factory that fronts as a powerhouse indie label, its star Edwin Luna had just begun floating trial balloons for a coup solo career. Flaring his nostrils with serious artistic intent, Luna had recently begun separating his name from that of his banda, La Trakalosa de Monterrey, and… acting in their 20-minute music videos. Surely before long they’d separate? Amid rancor and acrimony? Two competing bandas criss-crossing the continent with increasingly side-eyed arrangements of “Mi Padrino El Diablo”?

Thankfully we’re not there yet. Singer and banda are still united and scoring bi-national hits as Edwin Luna y La Trakalosa, with a thriving production company — Editraka — that hosts fitness classes. (Their “flared nostril burpees” are killers.) But Luna is also experimenting with some solo tunes of his own. Rest assured they are terrible.

edwin-luna-amor“Es Tiempo de Amar” is his bid for a big unifying national pop ballad. The video has Mexicans of every age singing about love and brighter tomorrows, some lavish hand gestures, inspiring words on pieces of cardboard (more Love Actually than “Subterranean Homesick Blues”), and a closing quote from Madre Teresa de Calcutta. (You were expecting maybe Sor Juana?) There’s nothing norteño about it, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if Luna knew how to sing non-norteño songs with any semblance of a personality. There’s also nothing topical about it, unless you hear the line “Es tiempo de… recuperar lo perdido” as a call for the Mexican government to fix the country’s kidnapping problem, along the lines of Intocable‘s “Día 730.” But, as we’ve seen recently, governments have enough trouble reacting to even overwhelming gestures of dissent. Subtlety in this case is NO VALE LA PENA.

What’s that? Hawaiian noises? Continue reading “Los Ritmos de Remex Records”

Who’s On the Mexican Radio? (1/27/17)

christian-nodal-bigWelcome to the Mexican radio charts*: Changing quicker than Mexican-American diplomatic relations! More exciting than the Doomsday Clock! Not even half the existential threat of those stupid made-up islands in the South China Sea!

NorteñoBlog is pleased to note that, since we last checked in, we get to enjoy nine new songs. Two are straight-up replacements for the better:

At #13, La Arrolladora Banda swaps its slow jam “Yo Sí Te Amé” for the busy merengue-flavored “Traicionera”;

and at #2, the young hotshot accordion slinger Alfredo Olivas trades the decent bluesy norteño number “Seguramente” for the skippy deathbed meditation “El Paciente,” con banda. He even works in a shoutout to the mythic Catarino, a corrido legend who fought in the Revolution and healed his wounds with his own saliva. Alfredito doesn’t fare as well in the song, but the Blog is looking forward to his next, apparently posthumous album. Pick to Click!

Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? (1/27/17)”

Alta Consigna Takes Charge (Desfile de Éxitos 1/21/17)

alta-consigna

Since NorteñoBlog last checked out Billboard‘s charts four weeks ago, the Hot Latin chart remains depressingly stagnant, with only six new songs. Four of the songs in the Top 10 have been there over half a year. Worse, the  Mexican songs in the Top 25 all sound like stagnant pools of overripe romance, unless you get real zen about it; then they become meditative pools whose stillness reflects back to us our most private yearnings.

alta-consignaThat includes the song at #20, “Culpable Tu,” by the young guitar/bass/tuba quintet Alta Consigna. Released back in July, it does not appear on their new album No Te Pide Mucho (Rancho Humilde), which shares a pacing strategy with Neil Young’s 1979 classic Rust Never Sleeps: lull listeners to sleep during the first half, then wake ’em up by rocking out more ferociously than any of your peers. This comparison is not exact; the first half of Rust Never Sleeps is better than the first half of No Te Pide Mucho, but in Alta Consigna’s defense, Neil Young famously did not record a world-historical bachata-with-tuba cover of “Propuesta Indecente.” Few albums of 1979 did. This is something the critical histories of the period won’t tell you.

NorteñoBlog has dug Alta Consigna before. Back in 2015 they got a “ft.” credit on Grupo El Reto‘s “La Parranda Va Empezar,” as ferocious a cavalcade of strumming and triple tonguing as you could hope for. At the band’s best — i.e., a new re-recording of its 2015 tune “Sinaloense Es El Joven” — it capitalizes on having two bass instruments by making them do completely opposite, equally rad things. Dani Vida fires a wild variety of machine gun and other noises from his tuba, while bassist Esteban González achieves a truly menacing tone. “Culpable” might be the token romantic ballad that gets people’s attention, but the back half of Mucho is where the Picks to Click reside. The album is VALE LA PENA, at least if you play it on shuffle.

Continue reading “Alta Consigna Takes Charge (Desfile de Éxitos 1/21/17)”

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”

Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 8/26/16

beto zapata

Much has changed on the Mexican airwaves since NorteñoBlog last tuned in over a month ago. The former #1 song, a heartbroken sob story of romantic grief and brassy bereftitude by Arrolladora, has given way to a different heartbroken sob story of romantic grief and brassy bereftitude, this time by Banda MS. And everyone knows that Arrolladora ballads are ace slow jams with rhythm sections full of coiled tension, while MS ballads drip like the discharge from festering sores. It’s all there in the music!

dos monedasFurther down, two Remex Records acts have replaced themselves on the radio with remakes. The more notable is ace flarer-of-nostrils Edwin Luna and his banda of second fiddlers, La Trakalosa. Given our troubled and uncertain times on both sides of the Great Wall of Trump, NorteñoBlog finds comfort in watching Luna grimace his way through another extravagant video meant to highlight his perennially nascent acting chops. (He acts in both color and black and white!) No hay nada nuevo bajo el sol. “Dos Monedas” was previously a hit for Ramón Ayala, and it was written by Jesse Armenta — You know him! He wrote some political barnburners for Los Tigres, including “El Circo,” thus winning himself a chapter in the book Narcocorrido — and it’s another heartbroken sob story.

Only this sob story is not at all romantic; it’s closer to “The Christmas Shoes” or some shit. The narrator is an abusive drunk. One cold and wintry night he sends his son out to beg for money to support the family booze fund. The next morning he opens the door to find sonny boy dead, both frozen and starved, holding in his small frozen starved hands the “dos monedas” of the title. All our children should be so dedicated! The narrator, no fool, sees a moral in this story, as does Edwin Luna, whose unconvincing portrayal of the drunk ends by approximating sadness. But Luna over-emotes his songs like nobody else, a good thing, and the arrangement makes this the cheeriest tune about filicide since “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” ¡VALE LA PENA! Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 8/26/16”

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