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La Séptima Banda

Fiesta Tercer Aniversario: LOS PICKS TO CLICK

alfredo olivas wary

Welcome to NorteñoBlog’s fourth year! As I survey the previous twelve months of radness, several themes emerge:

fantasmaSierreño is no longer a novelty. The guitar + tuba-or-bass style is now as prevalent as its country cousins, banda and accordion-based norteño. Although the style has existed for decades, you can trace its popularity back to the 2015 death of young singer-guitarist Ariel Camacho, which cemented sierreño as both young people’s music and a vehicle for pop hits. Two Camacho-related bands — Los Plebes del Rancho de Ariel Camacho and Ulices Chaidez y Sus Plebes — appear below, as do established norteño/banda stars Gerardo Ortiz and Remmy Valenzuela, jumping on the sierreño bandwagon with corridos and romantic ballads. One of the year’s biggest breakout stars, man-myth-legend El Fantasma, scored a long charting hit with the guitar corrido “Mi 45,” in the process becoming one of California’s most streamed Latin artists.

comere calladoGerardo Ortiz continues to dominate. You wouldn’t know it by looking at his album sales, but artistically, nobody in the genre had a better 2017. His sierreño-biting Comeré Callado album was a rebound from 2015’s disappointing Hoy Más Fuerte, with better songs and typically stunning band interplay. He was also featured on excellent norteño and bachata singles (see below), and notably did not release any videos showing him murdering women. I only accomplished one of those things.

La-Nueva-Onda-Norteña-V-Hell-Yea-2017-500x500Like Civil War reenactments and teen slasher movies, puro sax music will never die. The jaunty norteño subgenre, whose songs definitely do not all sound the same, continues to do several things well. It’s an excellent accompaniment to doing chores. Like freestyle, it pits bouncy uptempo music against bereft emo lyrics, to the benefit of both. And it pulls all kinds of other stuff — notably the huapango folk dance and alt-rockers Caifanes (see below) — into its deranged but happy orbit.

christian-nodalI wish I liked mariacheño and socially conscious corridos more than I do. Christian Nodal released an excellent, career-defining debut single, “Adios Amor,” and then followed it up with a boring but well-reviewed mariachi album. Calibre 50 released a heartfelt sigh of an immigration story, “Corrido de Juanito,” that meant a lot to some very smart people. Given the choice, though, I’d rather listen to the parade of reprehensible narcocorridos scattered below. Bands like La Nueva Rebelión draw swaggering energy from their illicit subject matter, turning narco music into a thrilling and paradoxically life-affirming force. Not that musicians can’t walk and chew gum at once — last year especially,
El Komander succeeded with both kinds of stories.

la villarrealWhere are all the women? I’m sorry to say, this is one area where the Blog seems to be getting worse, not better, and I’m not sure if it’s my fault or the industry’s. This year the Blog enjoyed singles by Alicia Villarreal (her album La Villarreal is way better mariachi pop than Nodal’s), Lucero, Diana Reyes, and Chiquis Rivera, but didn’t Pick to Click them, simply because there was better stuff those particular weeks. The latest countrified album from blog fave Laura Denisse was more of a chore than her last one, although it may be growing on me (and I just saw she has a Christmas album! Must research…). Los Horóscopos have been MIA lately. As Victoria ‘La Mala’ has pointed out, Mexican regional music remains a man’s world — the sheer amount of music produced by men overwhelms that of the women. That said, the year’s most exciting new voice belonged to Ángela Aguliar, who showed rich confidence on two wonderful duets with her father Pepe. (See below.)

Anyway, here they are: the past year’s worth of Picks to Click. Thanks for reading, and happy listening!

11/17/16: “Que Perrón” by La Séptima Banda
A big dumb cumbia ode to the modern world’s sexually assertive mujeres. As you might expect, such mujeres make La Séptima Banda very happy, especially the dude in the middle of the song who sheepishly admits, “I’m ugly.”

12/2/16: “Traigo Ganas de Pistiar” by Escuela de Rancho, Los Orejones de la Sierra, y La Bandeña
It scarcely matters what the song “Traigo Ganas” is about. I mean, I know it’s about getting drunk — the song opens with the sound of cans being cracked open, and anyway, I’m sure you’ve met low brass players — but what matters is the stupendous way this makeshift octo-quin-trio makes you feel all giddy and swivelly by jumping from one part of the song to the next.
Continue reading “Fiesta Tercer Aniversario: LOS PICKS TO CLICK”

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Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 10/24/17

enigma septima

“Probablemente,” “Corrido de Juanito,” and a whole lot of banda romance continue to color the Mexican airwaves; but hang around long enough and you might hear something más interesante.

batallandole-400x400At #9 we find the corrido quartet Enigma Norteño all hopped up on some profesor chiflado shit. “Batallándole (El Gordo Flubbers)” is a corrido celebrating the Good Life, occasioned by the illicit negocios of its narrator and shoved along by one of the Blog’s favorite hitmaking machines, La Séptima Banda. In Ernesto Barajas’s lyric, the narco narrator looks back on his hardscrabble origins serving hamburgers and selling Tercel plans, and waxes philosophical — “Sometimes you win and also lose yourself; today I won for being El Mono Verde.” For reference, recall Gerardo Ortiz’s kickass corrido “El Mono Verde”. Some Hasty Cartel Googling confuses the Blog, but also indicates “El Mono Verde” isn’t the same guy as “El Mono,” who was assassinated in 2015 and is therefore no longer winning.

At its core, this ode to drug trafficking competition is really a celebration of companionship, best expressed when Enigma and La Séptima stop trading lines to sing together, “En las helaaaaadas con camaraaaaaadas.” Well, OK, a celebration of companionship made possible through a morally suspect business. It’s basically the first half of Boogie Nights before 1980 comes along and everything goes to hell, or Flubber y El Profesor Chiflado before Robin Williams starts snorting the Flubber and becomes a monster to his wife and children. But until then, the combined bands bounce with the force of 20 bowling balls. PICK TO CLICK

If there’s one confusing hierarchical enterprise, dependent upon filthy lucre and violent acts of revenge, that I don’t really care to understand, it’s the cartel world. If there’s a second, it’s The Voice. My basic understanding is that The Voice, like its Mexican counterpart La Voz… México, is a four-step process:
Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 10/24/17”

Who’s On the Mexican Radio? (starring José Manuel Figueroa, Bronco, y más)

ordenando

This week NorteñoBlog bids a fond Mexican chart farewell to Alfredo Olivas‘s “El Paciente.” It’s a rousing deathbed meditation and previous Pick to Click that’s still hitting on U.S. radio, where its rippling banda charts and soaring melody sound better every time I hear them. Plus — always worth noting — the song shouts out Revolutionary legend Catarino, who was able to heal his wounds with his own saliva. Sources tell me the new, top-secret Republican healthcare bill relies exclusively on this method of treatment.

BRONCO_B-696X852But fans of medical metaphors and in-song death need not worry: in its place we have “Doctor” by Bronco, a smooth, synth-led grupero throwback, written by one of the dudes from pop duo Río Roma. Its story is simple and disturbing. The self-medicating, anhedonic narrator visits his doctor asking for a heart transplant because he can no longer love. The doctor assures our narrator that no cure exists, and instead offers to kill him. The narrator accepts. This bleak indictment of Mexico’s public healthcare system has somehow slipped past censors and cracked the top 10 of the nation’s radio chart, no doubt thanks to the seductive powers of its soothing cumbia lilt. Seasons don’t fear the reaper. You can be like they are. Come on, baby.

michaJust ahead of the sickos in Bronco we find La Séptima Banda and their latest shot of banda pop cheer, “Se Defiende.” It’s the lead single from their new album Micha y Micha (Fonovisa), half new studio songs and half live corridos. It’s not as good or surprising as last year’s NONSTOP POP EXPLOSION A Todo Volumen, but it’ll still get you through a commute. “Se Defiende” gives you a good idea of the band’s trash compactor approach to brass charts: they cram a bunch of hooks into a small space, mercilessly squeeze the whole mess down to two and a half minutes, and produce a gleaming cube that’s somehow homogenous and finely detailed at once.

no estas tuAt #18 we find José Manuel Figueroa with “Adiós,” from one of 2017’s most enjoyable albums until it peters out at the end, No Estás Tú (Fonovisa). Figueroa shares his given name and a talent for composing and producing with his father, the late Joan Sebastian. Also like padre, Figueroa doesn’t strictly adhere to any one style; he writes what amount to catchy country-pop songs, and on this album he mostly sets them to expert banda arrangements, though sometimes guitar, piano, and strings pop up. (On 2013’s “Rosas y Espinas” he dabbled with synths, which sounded cool and fit right in.) If you know NorteñoBlog at all, you know I’m a sucker for bandas that play bouncy backbeat pop, so “Adiós” is right up the Blog’s alley. The tuba bassline groove balances out the pretty melody and keeps it from turning maudlin, even as Figueroa sings about losing precious bodily fluids through his tear ducts and saliva glands. Maybe that’s how his voice got so scratchy. Pick to Click!

Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? (starring José Manuel Figueroa, Bronco, y más)”

¡Perros y gatos! ¡Viviendo juntos! (Desfile de Éxitos 5/6/17)

calibre 50

NorteñoBlog’s Pick to Click comes this week from Calibre 50, but it is not the quartet’s smash Top 10 ballad “Siempre Te Voy a Querer,” which does not solve Calibre’s perennial ballad problem — namely, that most of their ballads sound thin and flimsy and threaten to grind to a halt with every bar. Nor is it their #13 airplay hit/Michelob jingle “Las Ultras,” which, since first spotting it on the Mexican charts a couple weeks ago, has admittedly grown on me like so much cheap beer and/or beachfront dressage.

No, you should instead direct your attention to Calibre’s cover of “Volveré a Amar” by the 10-years-late banda singer Valentín Elizalde. The song itself is swanky midtempo heartache with backbeat and doo-wop tuba, a 2004 template for later earworms like Roberto Tapia’s “Mirando al Cielo.” (Or at least, it’s one of the templates: El Coyote beat Elizalde to this particular sound back in the ’90s.) Covering the tune, Eden Muñoz does his best Elizalde impression and sings low in his range, a wise choice — he’s as effortlessly charming as beachfront dressage. When the accordion quartet takes over for the banda during the chorus, the transition is seamless and full, so hats off to whoever recorded and mixed this thing. It’s at #39 airplay and you can find it on Fonovisa’s terrific collection of Elizalde covers, Tributo a Valentín Elizalde, previously covered here.

Also in the news:

— At #4, Christian Nodal‘s debut single “Adiós Amor” continues to win hearts and Youtube revenue. (Closing in on 128 million views!) Last month we covered it at The Singles Jukebox, where I wrote, Continue reading “¡Perros y gatos! ¡Viviendo juntos! (Desfile de Éxitos 5/6/17)”

¡Controversy! ¡Polémica! (Who’s On the Mexican Radio?)

marco-flores-dancing

Controversy! ¡Polémica! NorteñoBlog’s favorite dancer Marco Flores (aka Marco A. Flores) y su Banda Jerez (aka #1 Banda Jerez, or simply La Jerez) are back on the Mexican airwaves with “Los Viejitos” at #17, an amped up waltz that takes an insanely complex approach to both rhythmic subdividing and cultural appropriating.

los-viejitos-400x400The song, you see, plays on the traditional Danza de los Viejitos, danced for centuries by the indigenous Purépecha people in the highlands of Michoacán. Flores lives two states to the north in Zacatecas, but because he bows to Terpsichore in all her forms, he’s opened his new video with a not necessarily accurate re-enactment: five guys in flamboyant stooped-old-man costumes walk a circle, “helped” by members of La Jerez, who keep looking underneath their ponchos but seem otherwise respectful. The slow, trad fiddle music of la Danza stops abruptly, La Jerez kicks into its waltz, Flores flails his limbs, and the stooped old men spring to life, emboldened by this rad new beat. There’s a long, proud history of affectionately tweaking the Olds by replacing their slow rhythm with a new, faster rhythm — recall the Clash’s “Wrong ‘Em Boyo” or Nirvana’s “Territorial Pissings.” Flores seems to be operating on the same impulse here.

¡No tan rápido! says Michoacán’s secretary of indigenous people, Martín García Avilés. (Let’s just note how great it is that a Mexican state has its own secretary of indigenous people.) García Avilés calls the video an insult to native traditions nationwide. Flores and La Jerez are denigrating the Purépecha people and subjecting them to ridicule, he says, and they should take down the video. Flores expresses surprise, countering that he’s trying to rescue and exalt la Danza and bring it to the attention of younger generations. NorteñoBlog, watching a video of an actual Danza, asks warily, “Aren’t the dancing fake old men supposed to be funny? At least a little bit?” Not that I plan to start making video parodies of indigenous dances any time soon. Tumblr would have a collective aneurysm. But I’m curious to know how Flores’s video reads to other people who’ve grown up with la Danza de los Viejitos. Offensive? Funny?

Anyway, as I mentioned, the rhythms in this thing are also stellar — bar by bar, the band divides the basic pulse into either two or three, with Flores subdividing those beats into even smaller and faster bits during the choruses, his accents landing in unexpected places. Limbs flail accordingly. Pick to Click!

Continue reading “¡Controversy! ¡Polémica! (Who’s On the Mexican Radio?)”

Do Bandas Dream of Romantic Sheep? (or, nodding off to bandas románticas in 2017)

coronel-kiss

NorteñoBlog has been of two minds about Las Bandas Románticas de América, the annual compilation of lovey-dovey banda hits (and “hits”) released by either Fonovisa or Disa Records, the two norteño tentacles of el pulpo gigante known as Universal Music Latin Entertainment. The first mind thinks the songs are catchy, and is grateful for the occasion to write the phrase “asymptotically approaching the musical ideal of amor.” The second mind hated asymptotes in high school, thinks 20 straight love ballads is 19 too many, has nightmare fever dreams involving doe-eyed clarinet armies, and has boycotted the series for two years running.

bandas-romanticas-2017Resolve is not the Blog’s strong suit. Thus did I find myself washing dishes and listening to the latest in the series, Las Bandas Románticas de América 2017, 20 songs by 10 bands, only some of whom are “hitmakers” in the sense of “being heard anywhere outside this compilation.” I mean, I’m sure they tour. But if you’ve heard “Pedirás Perdón,” a 2015 nonentity by Banda Coraleña, on the radio anywhere in North America, you’re doing better than I am. If you can hum the song without looking it up, you’re doing better than Banda Coraleña. Give ’em this: their cover of Joey Montana‘s “Picky” is adequate! It’s also not included on Las Bandas Románticas de América 2017 — ironic for the least choosy compilation series around.

But you do get some good songs. As previously discussed, La Séptima Banda released some fine singles in 2016, two of which — the swinging ’50s sock hop “Yo Si Me Enamoré” and the irrepressibly bouncy “Se Va Muriendo Mi Alma” — are here. You also get Banda Los Recoditos’ current hit “Me Está Tirando El Rollo,” featuring some syncopated tuba bass that’s a primo distante of “Stand By Me,” and Samuel Sarmiento, the singer who isn’t Luis Angel Franco. Banda El Recodo‘s remake of “Mujer Mujer” keeps growing on me. Banda Rancho Viejo is, for NorteñoBlog’s money, the best banda working and always worth hearing. Their tune “Mil Veces Te Quiero” was also ignored by radio, and it’s from freaking 2014, but it combines an echoing triple-voiced hook and gang shouts with one of the struttingest grooves in all of bandaland. (Plus, more ’50s sock hop imagery in the video. Thinkpieces go!) A tardy Pick to Click.

Continue reading “Do Bandas Dream of Romantic Sheep? (or, nodding off to bandas románticas in 2017)”

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? 11/17/16

gerardo-ortiz-regresa-hermosa-snap-b

Welcome back to Songwriters’ Showcase, an apparently semiannual feature in which NorteñoBlog checks out the new love songs on Mexico’s radio chart, discovers that the world is a void wherein everything tastes like ashes, and attempts to salvage the post by researching the professional tunespinners who spun the tunes. The winners, as always, are you the readers.

Except they’re not all love songs this week! We start with not one but two big dumb cumbias. At #18, Claudio Alcaraz has written his own exercise in banda-fied minimalism, “El Pú,” about a friend of his who likes to get drunk and insult people. Great swaths of humanity get insulted here. Truckers, cops, Michoacanos, saints, etc. — you name ’em, they’re pú, aka “puro mandilón.” (“DEmasculated,” as my grandpappy and/or Urban Dictionary used to translate it.) In the video, Sr. Alcaraz’s friend appears as a lecherous clown who lights up the party by starting a conga line. Even so, the guy should stop insulting entire classes of people or he’ll never be elected to public office.

The other BDC, at #11, is way more bitchin’: “Que Perrón” by La Séptima Banda. Written by Joel Suarez and Luciano Luna, who is normally not this much fun, it’s an ode to the modern world’s sexually assertive mujeres. As you might expect, such mujeres make La Séptima Banda very happy, especially the dude in the middle of the song who sheepishly admits, “I’m ugly.” Whoever’s singing lead — I think it’s Efrain, but votes for Chino will also be tabulated — plays his wiggly cadence off the tuba/batería lines with a cheerful insouciance that makes me think I’ve been underrating the Séptima album all year. I’ll get back to you on that. In the meantime, a very ornate Pick to Click. (This live video lets you savor some of those internal brass rhythms.)

Also charting this week: Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 11/17/16”

Desfile de Éxitos 7/23/16

chicken

This being summer in the northern hemisphere, and summer being the perfect time for weddings, and weddings being the ultimate nexus of comedy, pain, and terror (apart from this week’s Republican convention), it’s no surprise that two of this week’s debut videos feature newlywed hijinx. At #47 Hot Latin, the Los Angeles DJ Deorro has recruited Nuyorican merengue singer Elvis Crespo to sing the festive electrosalsa tune “Bailar.” Angling for the drop-heavy wedding reception market, Deorro has yoked the song to a video featuring an angry padre de la novia who keeps trying to sabotage his new son-in-law. A chicken suit makes a prominent appearance. The video will make you yearn for the trenchant realism of the Steve Martin movies, while the song itself might make you yearn for a couple more chord changes and a wall to bang your head against.

Equaling Deorro for NRG are Ojinaga’s sax stalwarts Los Rieleros del Norte, at #18 on the Regional Mexican airplay chart. Lead singer Daniel Esquivel narrates the song with a heart full of rue and a bloodstream full of liquor, “una botella en cada mano,” because his mujer has left him all alone. In the video, Esquivel’s tears are precipitated by the wedding of his daughter, who drives off with her young jagoff of a husband, leaving lonely Dad to his tequila distillery. “I’m still alive,” he sings, reassured by the undying riffage of chipper staccato sax and accordion. The video has a happy ending, but the song leaves room for doubt.

But the best new tune this week comes from La Séptima Banda, Continue reading “Desfile de Éxitos 7/23/16”

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