music, charts, opinions


Laura Denisse

NorteñoBlog’s 41 Esencial Songs Since the Year 2000


As a recovering rockist and certified Old, I enjoy listening to the radio station The Current, 89.3 FM, whenever I’m driving through the Twin Cities. Recently The Current held a listener poll to determine the 893 essential songs since the year 2000. This list is a hit of sweet, unfiltered white elephant art. “Seven Nation Army” is #1 — and to be fair, it’s got one of the first riffs learned by today’s budding guitarists. Arcade Fire is everywhere, and Duluth folk-rockers Trampled By Turtles are more ranked than they’ve ever been ranked before.

In response, last week the Minneapolis City Pages, led by the excellent Keith Harris, published a list of 40 non-essential songs since the year 2000. This was the termite-tapeworm-fungus-moss riposte to all that Art. As you might guess, the non-essential list is way more fun, since it contains songs about dog sex and smashing things with hammers. But still, there was something missing, and I don’t mean Trampled By Turtles.

Both these lists gave NorteñoBlog an excuse to indulge in its two favorite pastimes: bitching that nobody pays attention to regional Mexican music, and shamelessly stealing the ideas of its betters.

So, in the pioneering spirit of 7-Minute Abs: ¡NorteñoBlog’s 41 Esencial Songs Since 2000!

What does “esencial” mean in this case? I only got into Mexican music in 2005, so my list will look different than the list of someone immersed in this music for years, let alone decades. If you’ve followed the Blog at all, you know my taste leans toward novelty: cumbias, tubas, brass sections turned into backbeats, and squalid consortiums of instrumentalists all trying to outplay one another. I have Complicated Feelings about violent narco songs celebrating real criminals, but I don’t dismiss them outright, and I think they often make bands sound more exciting than they would otherwise.

In short — and this is one of the points I read in the City Pages’ subtext, and in Richard Meltzer’s The Aesthetics of Rock and Chuck Eddy’s books — the non-esencial is esencial to the whole enterprise. That’s why this list sometimes looks like a mutant termite-elephant hybrid.

Before we get started, here’s something else you won’t find on either of those other lists: an artist who’s currently sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury! Romantic balladeer Julión Álvarez, despite being basically Iran, has the distinction of being the continent’s best singer, and he recorded the most esencial melody here, but you can’t find it on the Spotify playlist at the bottom. So enjoy “Ojos Verdes” as you peruse.

And now, get a whiff of the Blog’s essence.

40. Edwin Luna y La Trakalosa de Monterrey – “Mi Padrino el Diablo” 2014
Whether flaring his nostrils or trying to jumpstart his perpetually nascent acting career, Luna over-enunciates more dramatically than anyone in banda music. Here’s a jaunty waltz where he gets down with the devil.

39. Los Angeles Azules – “El Listón de Tu Pelo” 2000
Continue reading “NorteñoBlog’s 41 Esencial Songs Since the Year 2000”

¡Feliz 2016! (y ¡Lo Mejor de 2015!)


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: Maquinaria Norteña and Laura Denisse

laura denisse horse

la-maquinaria-norteña-ya-dime-adiós[2]Back in September, NorteñoBlog gave short shrift to the eighth (I think) album by La Maquinaria Norteña, Ya Dime Adiós (Azteca/Fonovisa). I thought they were energetic but generic, low on hooks, just one damn sax-and-accordion polka after another. How short was my shrift? My shrift was short enough that it could have been any random Maquinaria song, which tend to run out of steam after about two and a half minutes — with the notable exception of “No Sé Cómo Hacerlo,” which beefs its running time to three and a half minutes by throwing in a snippet of Super Mario Brothers music at the end.

And right there, amid Koji Kondo’s well-known arpeggios, lies everything I got wrong about Maquinaria in the first place. These guys know their subgenre — the puro sax music of Zacatecas and Chihuahua — is a little ridiculous. They know that when a sax and an accordion harmonize over polka beats, the results sound like skippy video game music. To counter this, they wink at their Super Mario-loving audience but, more importantly, they never let up. Maquinaria might not be the hardest working band in the puro sax game, but they sure sound like they are. They’re wilder and grittier than most of their peers. The lead instruments tug against the beat more and leave fewer empty spaces, and at the end of those 150 seconds of pleasure, everyone sounds spent.

Maquinaria Norteña: Su saxo está breve, pero es VALE LA PENA. Continue reading “Lo Mejor de 2015: Maquinaria Norteña and Laura Denisse”

Fiesta de Aniversario: THE PICKS TO CLICK

gerardo birthday

NorteñoBlog doesn’t always Pick to Click, but when I do… sometimes I get it wrong and type “Click to Pick.” This made searching for the previous year’s worth of Picks INTERESANTE.

The Pick to Click began as a shameless ripoff from Charles Pierce’s must-read liberal politics blog at Esquire, as did a couple other, possibly subtler NorteñoBlog tics. (Spot them all! Both! Whatever!) It’s a useful way to highlight the song I enjoy the most in a particular post, so that you the loyal reader don’t have to wade through a pool of Banda MS’s tears to reach the good stuff. Of course, if you enjoy the delectable bouquet wafting from Banda MS’s tears, you can always Click what I don’t Pick, though you’ll run the risk of turning Banda MS happy and then they might run out of Art. Besides current singles, the following list includes some older singles and current album tracks.

Most Picked at three apiece: NorteñoBlog’s probable artists of the year Alfredo Ríos “El Komander” and Marco Flores y #1 Banda Jerez. Banda Cuisillos, Noel Torres, and Chuy Lizárraga each scored two Picks. So did Los Gfez, Pancho Uresti, and Ariel Camacho, though one Pick from each of those three was in a “featured” role. Besides norteño and banda, the list includes cumbias and puro sax stomps, reggaeton and ABBA-schlager, Jenny and the Mexicats and Pitbull, and covers of Johnny Cash and — first up — Shania Twain. Happy Clicking!
Continue reading “Fiesta de Aniversario: THE PICKS TO CLICK”

NorteñoBlog’s Top Singles of 2015: Abril – Junio


This quarter’s list contains fewer radio hits than last quarter’s — only four out of 11 — but don’t worry! Both radio and Youtube continue to inundate us with all kinds of great music under the banner of “regional Mexican.” Below we’ve got cumbia from the underrepresented state of Nayarit, violin-driven dance music from the underrepresented state of Oaxaca, a brass banda from Jalisco who dresses in indigenous garb and doesn’t play corridos but sometimes plays piano pop, Linda Ronstadt-style pop country from Nuevo León, Chicago’s hometown heroines Los Horóscopos hitting Mexican radio and giving everybody cuernos, aaaaand (as usual) a whole lotta Sinaloa. NorteñoBlog has apparently been sleeping on the states of Chihuahua and Zacatecas, though, as I’ve dug up zero hot new singles to represent their puro sax styles. Better luck next quarter!

1. Banda Cohuich“Son Kora Kau Te Te Kai Nie Ni (Dialecto Huichol)” (Pegasus)
Huichol is an indigenous Mexican language, and “Son Kora” is a relentless jerking propulsion machine with brass, gang vocals, and a slippery synth line (I think).
hasn’t charted

2. Laura Denisse“Sigo Enamorada” (Fonovisa)
Denisse has a big clear voice in the vein of Linda Ronstadt, and she’s been singing a mix of banda and pop since she was a kid in the ’90s. The big brass riff here is simply a series of repeated notes, but the players articulate and syncopate like swaggering jazz cowboys.
hasn’t charted

3. Ariel Camacho y Los Plebes Del Rancho“Te Metiste” (Del/Sony)
This gorgeous love song sounds just as strange and sparse as “El Karma” when it plays on the radio.
U.S. radio hit

4. Grupo El Reto ft. Alta Consigna“La Parranda Va a Empezar” (Gerencia 360/Sony)
This quartet belongs to la corriente escuela of corridistas who sing about corruption while their corrosive tubists imitate machine gun fire. Corre! The quartet Alta Consigna also has a tuba in the band, so you’ve got two tubists and a requinto (I think?) playing furiously over everything.
hasn’t charted

5. Banda Cuisillos“Cerveza” (Musart/Balboa)
This isn’t even my favorite Cuisillos song of 2015 — that’d be this swinging piano-driven non-single — but these Jaliscanos do indulge several of NorteñoBlog’s weaknesses: two different singers trying to outdo one another in the passion department, brass alternating with guitar, and deplorable sexism.
Mexican radio hit

6. Leandro Ríos ft. Pancho Uresti“Debajo Del Sombrero” (Remex)
This not-so-humble ranchera ballad takes as much pleasure in the act of rhyming as any random song by Sondheim. Although, going through my Spanish rudiments, I’m disappointed the song doesn’t take place in enero, and why doesn’t our heroic caballero own a perro?
U.S. and Mexican radio hit

7. Banda Costado – “Pinotepa” (Talento)
This is a way different sound than we usually enjoy here: lots of percussion, tuba bassline, wild violin, and singers. Many independent lines and very little chordal harmony, in other words.
hasn’t charted

8. Banda Culiacancito“Lastima de Cuerpo” (Del/Sony)
If you’ve read this blog long enough, you know one of my favorite musical effects is rapid fire barrages of syllables that never seem to end and make me feel totally inadequate about my grasp of español. Prolific songwriters Geovani Cabrera (Regulo Caro, Calibre 50) y Horacio Palencia (todos) deliver. Knock yourself out with a trombone slide!
hasn’t charted

9. Los Gfez“Hasta Tu Dedo Gordito” (Remex)
I implore you not to google images of dedos gorditos unless you get off on toe injuries. No judging. I should mention that the quartet Los Gfez, last seen joining Diego Herrera on a likable Mexican hit, start their search for the mystery dedo fast and, through the magic of time changes, find a way to get faster.
hasn’t charted

10. Noel Torres“No Andan Cazando Venados” (Gerencia 360/Sony)
Torres’s arrangement of “Venados” sounds like he’s adapting Ariel Camacho’s unusual instrumentation. He takes stripped down passages of requinto guitar solos over lurching tuba, the same dynamic you find in Camacho’s repertoire, and alternates them with full banda sections. Horns replace rhythm guitar. The result is both serious and silly (ay, esos clarinetes), a fitting tribute that also fits with Torres’s swagger.
hasn’t charted

11. Los Horóscopos de Durango“Estoy Con Otro En La Cama”
Mexican radio hit

10 more good ones:

Miguel – “Coffee”
AB Soto – “Cha Cha Bitch”
Sam Hunt – “House Party”
Markus Feehily – “Love Is a Drug”
Honey Cocaine – “Sundae”
Chemical Brothers ft. Q-Tip – “Go”
Brandon Flowers – “Can’t Deny My Love”
Haley Georgia – “Ridiculous”
Bobby Brackins ft. Zendaya and Jeremih – “My Jam”
Vanbot – “Seven”

¡Nuevo! (starring Los Gfez, Laura Denisse, y más)

denisse banda

gfezThere are times when NorteñoBlog’s rudimentary knowledge of Spanish becomes an obstacle. One such time is today, as I try to figure out the great new single by Los Gfez, “Hasta Tu Dedo Gordito” (Remex). (Pick to Click!) The subject of this song is plain from all the gratuitous bosom shots in the video: it’s about tu cuerpo and what Martin Panuco would like to do to it. The question comes when we try to determine the identity of the title dedo. At heart a third grade boy, I’ve used my context clues to determine that esta mujer’s dedo gordito is located somewhere below her ombligo; that Panuco is traveling from ombligo to dedo gordito with his lengua; and that somewhere in this scenario, there is a pomo (“knob”) he wants to raise. (“Cien por ciento”! Nothing less will do!) I can only conclude that this dedo gordito is la mujer’s big toe. I implore you not to google images of dedos gorditos unless you get off on toe injuries. No judging. I should mention that the quartet Los Gfez, last seen joining Diego Herrera on a likable Mexican hit, start their search for the mystery dedo fast and, through the magic of time changes, find a way to get faster. Good luck, guys! Send postcards!

laura denisseSince NorteñoBlog was quiet last week and since this week is all singles, we’ve got a second Pick to Click: Laura Denisse’s good humored banda swinger “Sigo Enamorada” (Fonovisa). Denisse has a big clear voice in the vein of Linda Ronstadt, and she’s been singing a mix of banda and pop since she was a kid in the ’90s. This song, about continuing to love, is her major label debut. The banda arrangement is delightfully spare and snappy — Denisse spends much of the first verse singing over a bed of percussion and tuba, with minimal horn interjections. The big brass riff is simply a series of repeated notes, but the players articulate and syncopate like swaggering jazz cowboys.

ely quinteroEly Quintero has been releasing her own banda and norteño music for several years now. Her new one, “La Pantera Rosa” (Ely), is only on Youtube as a series of preview snippets; as a lickety split quartet tune, it seems promising. As I catch up with her terrific previous singles, Quintero reminds me of one of the Terrazas sisters from Los Horóscopos, whichever has the brasher attitude.

komanderSpeaking of brash attitudes, the fast and furious Alfredo Ríos El Komander goes slow and serious for “Me Interesa” (Twiins), another half-assed single after “Fuga Pa’ Maza.” Only where “Fuga” was half-assed in a gloriously drunken whirlyball way, this ballad is half-assed in a sad slumped-over-the-bar way. I’m half-assedly searching for a parallel from the canon — maybe it’s the “Drinks After Work” to “Fuga”‘s “Red Solo Cup”? Suggestions welcome.

trakalosaLa Trakalosa de Monterrey has thrilled us with Faustian bargains and depressive wrist slitters. Now with Tatiana they are going Broadway, or something. Despite its nonstop barrage of words, “Ser Un Niño Esta Genial” (Remex) sounds like something that skipped off a Luis Coronel album, winking and pointing little finger guns at everyone in the room. The guys in La Trakalosa used to be adictos a la tristeza; now they’re hooked on Zoloft.

troyanaBanda Troyana does the small-band-strumming vs. big-brass-assault thing with entertainingly driving results in ¿Y Cómo Crees?” (Azteca). By the end of the song you pity the poor sap ripping through all those spectacular trombone fills — he’s going red and his tongue’s getting tired.

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