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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)”

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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”

Julio Tiene Calor

Pg13-Mens-soccer-celebration

Thanks to you, a loyal coalition of corrido heads and puro sax devotees, NorteñoBlog enjoyed its most-clicked month yet in julio. Here are the posts that got the most attention, both current articles and old ones:

Current Posts:
1. Trap is Hyphy and Hyphy is Trap (¡Nuevo!)
Hyphy Music Inc. is still going strong; Martin Patrón’s Trap Corridos is rad.

2. NorteñoBlog’s Top Singles of 2016: Abril – Junio
12 tunes worth hearing; NorteñoBlog will totally update the YouTube playlist sometime in the next decade.

3. Yo Quiero Tu Saxo (julio 2016)
Sax riffs and terrible puns comin’ at ya!

4. Desfile de Éxitos 7/9/16
Intocable sets a chart record; the blog continues to marvel at how much the kids love Los Plebes del Rancho.

5. Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 7/8/16
Songwriter’s Showcase underrates the new Recodo single.

Old Posts:
1. Explosion Norteña: Beto’s Revenge
Manuel celebrates the inimitable flow of Beto Cervantes, lead MC of Explosion Norteña.

2. Top 5 W.T.F. Corrido Moments!
More intersections of rap and corridos: Manuel counts ’em down.

3. Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 6/23/16
La Iniciativa and Banda Los Recoditos team up for a tongue-twisting tune about wingmen and the women they share at the club.

4. 100 Regional Mexican Compilations Released in 2015
Seriously, who buys these things?

5. Pronounced “Jai-Fi”: The Rise and Fall of Hyphy Norteño
Almost a decade ago, Los Amos and friends went hyphy; WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

¡Gracias por leer!

Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 7/8/16

luna leyenda

Welcome back to Songwriters’ Showcase, the apparently semiannual feature in which NorteñoBlog checks out the new songs on Mexico’s radio chart and, upon realizing those songs are gateways to the Actual Void, decides it would be way more interesting to research who wrote the songs instead. The winners, as always, are you the readers.

In at #20, we have Intocable with the undeniably hooky yet unnecessarily petering-out “Quiéreme (Ámame),” already a hit in El Norte. The man who wrote “Quiéreme,” Luis “Louie” Padilla, has written a bunch of tunes for Intocable and others, including the band’s previous superior single “Tu Ausencia.” “Basic and hokey,” wrote Cassy Gress about that one.

intocable highwayIntocable’s new album Highway is a concept album about — what else? — life on the road. (Eventually we all record one. Don’t fight the inevitable.) It’s been lauded for its emotional complexity, musical adventure, and bedrock catchiness, but it currently annoys me in the same way Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot does: it’s a bunch of so-so songs dressed up with special studio effects, as though the band is desperately trying to prevent themselves from playing EVERY SONG THE SAME. This is especially disappointing with Intocable, because they know how to groove! Witness the beginning of “Quiéreme,” which starts tight and tense before lapsing into the familiar Intocable Lope. Or “Un Día Sin Ti” — as Thom Jurek points out, it starts out sounding like “Kashmir” before (you guessed it) settling into the well-worn Intocable Lope. The Intocable Lope possesses the gravity of a thousand suns. The songs’ melodies and chord changes lack the power or distinction to counter the Lope’s inexorable tug. “Basic and hokey” is exactly right.

At #19 we find noted Ivan Archivaldo impersonators Grupo Máximo Grado with the languid cheater’s waltz “Pensando en Ella.” Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 7/8/16”

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