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Julión Álvarez

NorteñoBlog’s Top Singles of 2016: Abril – Junio

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Last time out, NorteñoBlog counted six chart hits among the quarter’s best. This quarter we’re down to three, which doesn’t necessarily mean the radio has turned into a wasteland — after all, part of the thrill of radio is hearing a song you never much cared for, like Gerardo Ortiz’s “Fuiste Mia,” suddenly sound really good in the company of entirely dissimilar songs. Not that you’ll find “Fuiste Mia” below. But who knows, I may relent before the year is out.

No, all this means is that norteño and banda music have thriving independent scenes, geared more toward online video than terrestrial radio — see the tiny labels and self-releases promoted by Beto Sierra, whose YouTube clients make up a good portion of this list. In terms of their commercial outlook, bands like Máximo Grado and Los Rodriguez don’t resemble the reactionary ’80s heyday of “indie rock” so much as the early rock heyday of the ’50s and ’60s, when bands simply wanted to get paid to rock out, whether they recorded for Excello or Sun or Decca or RCA. Today’s world of online promotion means it’s easier for musicians of all genres to get heard, though not necessarily to get paid. But the barriers between majors and indies seem more porous in Mexican regional music than they do in Anglo pop and rock. Indie artists like Fidel Rueda and Los Inquietos regularly get played on mainstream radio; major and indie bands record the same corridos, and sometimes the same love songs. Everyone tours the same venues relentlessly. That’s not to say everyone is equal. Indie label acts are routinely priced out of performing on the glamorous award show circuit, and I’m guessing major label artists have first pick of surefire radio hits by Luciano Luna and Horacio Palencia. NorteñoBlog needs to research this more, but in Mexican regional music, the indie-major borderline isn’t drawn philosophically or aesthetically so much as with scrap and hustle and practicality: Who’s got the money? Who’s got the chops? How do we use our chops to get more money?

Of course, 10 years from now, when Ortiz and Julión Álvarez have catalogs full of dull 20-track prestige albums, who knows? Boredom has a way of shaking up philosophies and aesthetics.

1. Banda Renovación“Los Ninis” (Talento Lider)
Continue reading “NorteñoBlog’s Top Singles of 2016: Abril – Junio”

Desfile de Éxitos 5/21/16

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It’d be hard to top last week’s spate of three-count-’em-three norteño debuts on the Hot Latin chart, including new songs from Arrolladora (this week at #28), Los Gfez (#36), and Hijos de Barrón (#47). But if you enjoy boring banda ballads, Norteñoblog has just the songs for you!

At #29, the week’s highest debut of any genre comes from Banda MS and their song “Me Vas a Extrañar,” which has been waltzing its sad tale of love gone wrong across Mexico for a couple weeks. Banda MS continues to be wildly, inexplicably popular. Their earlier hit “Solo Con Verte” just notched its 26th week on the U.S. Hot Latin chart, with no sign of slowing down: it’s still at #4, and this week it boasts the biggest gains in streams and digital sales. After half a year! I mean, as boring banda ballads go, “Solo Con Verte” is decent, but that’s sort of like calling John Kasich the standout candidate in the most recent Republican presidential primary. The field was not exactly an embarrassment of riches. (Other kinds of embarrassment, definitely.) But this comparison might be inapposite anyway, because John Kasich’s YouTube numbers are way below Banda MS’s.

At #48, the second banda debut is the title waltz from Recoditos’ latest album Me Está Gustando. Sung by Samuel Sarmiento, its video features not one but two inappropriate workplace romances and the band’s other lead vocalist, Luis Angel Franco, wearing a construction helmet. Sharpen those slash fiction pencils!

The debuts on the Regional Mexican radio chart are a little better. Continue reading “Desfile de Éxitos 5/21/16”

¡Nuevo! (starring Joss Favela, Remmy Valenzuela, y más)

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Songwriter José Alberto Inzunza — aka Joss Favela — has probably made more money than any of the other kids from Código F.A.M.A. Season 2, the TV talent show where he finished seventh in 2004. The winners of Season 2 went on to star in Misión S.O.S., a novela that featured the following novel plot points:

[T]he neighbors of Buenaventura have even darker futures, as they are in danger of losing their homes, their school and much more, because the evil old Severiano plans to tear down the neighborhood and build an enormous shopping mall in its place. To accomplish his plan, Severiano is willing to resort to any means, and will provoke a series of disasters to drive the inhabitants away.

The decrepit old theater is the children’s favorite spot, and this is where they meet a mysterious little man who will change their lives and the fate of Buenaventura forever. Chaneque, a friendly elf, is a magical being who is on an important mission: to save his elf-world from destruction.

Yes yes, Shakespeare plots sound ridiculous when you describe them, too, although I’m not sure El Bardo ever resorted to the ol’ “save the theater before the evil capitalist tears it down” gambit. The point is, Misión only ran for a season, so I’m guessing its actors aren’t earning much in residuals. (If that’s how things work in Méxican TV.) Joss “Seventh Place” Favela, though, became a songwriter who scored massive hits. “Te Hubieras Ido Antes,” Favela’s favorite because it “crossed genres and borders” and therefore made him lots of money, had the good fortune to be sung by the continent’s best voice, Julión Álvarez; “¿Por Qué Terminamos?” landed with Gerardo Ortiz, who also got his start singing on Código F.A.M.A., where he looked exactly the same as he does now — only shorter and more elfen.

joss favelaFavela just released his solo debut album, Hecho a Mano (Sony). He sings with a fine quartet — accordion, tuba, bajo sexto, drums — whose personnel NorteñoBlog is still trying to track down. As you’d expect from this born romantic balladeer, the melodies are strong and soaring. As you might not expect, the band and their leader sometimes have great fun crushing lovelorn sentiments into a fine dust. For example, the standout “No Vuelvas a Llamarme” is a days-of-the-week song like Craig David’s “7 Days,” but it’s also a furious rolling waltz where Favela urges his ex not to call him, because he always has something better to do. (“Believe it or not, I go to Mass on Sundays” — and if you’ve ever tried to use your phone inside a cathedral, you know the reception sucks and the wi-fi’s probably spotty.) The well-rehearsed band has their stop-start game down cold, and the rhythm section’s licks fly nonstop like the popcorn Favela enjoys at those Wednesday double features he claims to never miss. Pick to Click!

Continue reading “¡Nuevo! (starring Joss Favela, Remmy Valenzuela, y más)”

Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 5/3/16

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Welcome to the Mexican charts, where change, as my cosmetic podiatrist likes to say, is afoot. Although it’s been several weeks since NorteñoBlog tuned in to the Mexican radio, the rate of turnover feels much quicker there than in El Norte. For example, check out the norteño and banda songs that have been hanging around the charts the longest:

U.S. Hot Latin:
#19 – “Ya Te Perdí La Fe” by Arrolladora, 26 weeks
#4 – “Solo Con Verte” by Banda MS, 25 weeks
#13 – “Broche de Oro” by Trakalosa, 24 weeks
#14 – “Tomen Nota” by Adriel Favela ft. Los Del Arroyo, 20 weeks
#19 – “DEL Negociante” by Los Plebes del Rancho de Ariel Camacho, 20 weeks

Mexican Popular:
#8 – “Tragos de Alcohol” by El Komander, 14 semanas
#13 – “Préstamela a Mí” by Calibre 50, 14 semanas
#17 – “El Borrachito” by Julión Álvarez, 14 semanas
#7 – “Espero Con Ansias” by Remmy Valenzuela, 13 semanas
#12 – “María” by Pepe Aguilar, 11 semanas

I know what you’re thinking: the Mexican list is way better, and not just because you’re sick of all the U.S. songs after five months! You’re right, but that quality judgment is probably just a coincidence. (And one that doesn’t account for NorteñoBlog’s fave wristwatch porn jam “Tomen Nota.”) You might also be thinking these two charts aren’t equivalent, because Hot Latin measures radio plus streams plus downloads, whereas the Mexican Popular chart only measures radio. Verdadero; but if you check out Billboard‘s radio-only Regional Mexican chart, the U.S. songs have charted for roughly the same amount of time, give or take a week, plus you find Adictiva’s certified 37-weeker “Después de Ti, ¿Quién?”, a real tantric filibuster. Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 5/3/16”

From a Bark to a Warble: Systema Solar and Julión Álvarez Hear Voices

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systema solarFrom time to time, NorteñoBlog enjoys wandering down to the next continent. Today we visit Colombia, where electrocumbias ricochet across every town square and people should keep their little pig-tailed babies away from the red ants, for heaven’s sake. On the back of the CD Systema Solar (Nacional), the new compilation by the band Systema Solar, we read the following:

“Systema Solar is a musico-visual collective based on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Its members are…”

And then it goes on to list the members — without mentioning which member sounds uncannily like Lil Jon. Now, I’m no music publicist, but it seems to me if one of your bandmates has an on-point Lil Jon bark that he’s comfortable trotting out in song after song, that particular musical characteristic should appear first in your bio. “Before we tell you anything else, there’s a dude in this band who sounds like Lil Jon. We feel we owe humanity this information, so that you do not skip over this CD and regret it the rest of your life. Yadda yadda musical-visual collective…”

But whatever. Systema Solar have plenty else going for them. Though the SXSW veterans sometimes play around with one narrowly defined groove, as in “Oye,” they are equally expert at cramming a bunch of disparate elements atop rocking beats and making it work. “Quien Es El Patrón?” blends spaghetti Western guitars, horns, and — because they are not Calexico, thank goodness — absolutely massive drums and turntable scratches. A crazy panoply of voices ricochets across the town square, ants devour babies, and everyone has a fine time. VALE LA PENA and Pick to Click and all that.

Continue reading “From a Bark to a Warble: Systema Solar and Julión Álvarez Hear Voices”

Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 3/23/16

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Baby-faced Alfredo Olivas is sitting pretty at #3 in Mexico this week. You might remember Olivas from his unfortunate incident a little more than a year ago, when he was playing a concert at the Hacienda club in Parral, Chihuahua. In the middle of the concert he decided to flirt with a young lady sitting in VIP by throwing her his jacket. As everyone knows, flirting with young hotties from the stage is one of the three main benefits of being a touring musician; the other two are a preternatural ability to pull open doors while carrying heavy amplifiers, and, if you’re lucky, free nachos.

The young woman’s male companions didn’t see it this way. Alfredo’s insouciance, coupled with the fact that his thrown jacket knocked over some liquor bottles on the table, sent these young men into a murderous rage. They shot at Alfredo, injuring him and eventually killing at least one of the Hacienda’s patrons. This whole situation was exceedingly stupid, and should serve as a good reminder next time you hear some U.S. or state legislator trying to extend legal carry rights to places where people consume alcohol and get rowdy. Such places are not where you go to organize your “well regulated militia.”

Anyway, NorteñoBlog welcomes Alfredo back with a new single not included on his so-so 2015 album Privilegio. “La Sigo Y Me Sigue (Todo o Nada)” is some mid-tempo romantic waffling Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 3/23/16”

Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 2/2/16

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ALERTA DE SPOILER: The following may reveal important plot twists from the latest Trakalosa video, a 10-minute saga called “Supiste Hacerme Mal.” (It’s at #7 this week.) Don’t say NorteñoBlog didn’t warn you.

(In other news: yes, Trakalosa videos now merit spoiler alerts.)

The latest radio hit by Edwin Luna and his banda Trakalosa de Monterrey is a study in domestic strife and scandalous romance. Basically, a young woman is planning to marry the two-timing novio of her wedding planner, whom said novio has been treating with cold distance. When the two women discover they love the same man at a reception tasting event, drama happens. So much drama. Edwin Luna turns in a characteristically intense, nostril-flarey performance as the novio in question; novela actriz Yulianna Peniche shows more range as the wedding planner. We’re already familiar with Luna’s boundless ambition — he’s started putting his name in front of his band’s — and scandalous romantic life — short take: Luna left his wife and son for the actress who directed this video, Alma Cero — but I’m not sure how much this not-entirely-flattering video trades on Luna’s IRL circumstances. Do fans see art imitating life?

Regardless of its tabloid inspiration, this isn’t another Muy Especial video in the vein of Trakalosa’s previous epic “Pregúntale” (#17), which boldly came out against wife-beating. There is no moral to be learned or lesson to be had here, unless it’s this pro tidbit for wedding planners: Always learn the name of the husband before drawing up a contract! This video is essentially clickbait, a way to drum up interest in an otherwise forgettable song (seriously, try humming a couple bars of “Supiste” — IT CAN’T BE DONE) and, I’m guessing, to boost Luna’s nascent acting career. He’s not a terrible actor, but I worry his neck tattoo will limit his choices. Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 2/2/16”

¡Feliz 2016! (y ¡Lo Mejor de 2015!)

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Regional Mexican music had as good a year in 2015 as any other style of popular music, but you wouldn’t know it from any music magazine’s year-end coverage. This Mexican-American radio format is only one small musical laboratory within the vast complex of U.S. pop; but figured by their percentages, norteño, banda, cumbia, and Tejano bands released as many great, vibrant singles and albums as their peers in other popular music subgenres. Yet good luck finding this music on year-end lists. Even at Billboard, which provides the best English-language coverage of Mexican music, the list of Top 10 Latin Albums contains only one (very good) regional Mexican album, which came out in 2014. None of the magazine’s Top 10 Latin Songs represent Mexican regional styles. (Shoutout to the New York Times’ Ben Ratliff, though, for getting Remmy Valenzuela’s “¿Por Qué Me Ilusionaste?” into the paper of record.) And never mind year-end coverage — this fun, fascinating music rarely gets covered throughout the year in mainstream publications, although NPR and Annie Correal in the Times are notable exceptions. As is The Singles Jukebox, where Josh writes and where the editors and writers share an expansive definition of “pop.”

This is pop music, dammit! MILLIONS OF AMERICANS LISTEN TO IT.

(An appropriate YouTube playlist to accompany that claim.) Continue reading “¡Feliz 2016! (y ¡Lo Mejor de 2015!)”

Lo Mejor de 2015: Julión “El Rey de Spotify” Álvarez and Banda Cuisillos

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alvarez compBillboard tells us Julión Álvarez — the man with the continent’s best voice and the proud Instructor De Amor behind a brand new greatest hits compilation, Lecciones Para El Corazón (Disa) — was Spotify’s most streamed artist in Mexico this past year. As two more jewels in his gilded professorial crown, Lecciones and El Aferrado (Fonovisa) were the most streamed albums in Mexico, followed by albums from the Weeknd, Major Lazer, and — look at that! — Natalia LaFourcade, whose Hasta La Raíz NorteñoBlog called “fun in an arty go-go boots way.” (Maybe I should listen to it again.) (And stop using clothes metaphors.) Continue reading “Lo Mejor de 2015: Julión “El Rey de Spotify” Álvarez and Banda Cuisillos”

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