music, charts, opinions


Los Rodriguez De Sinaloa

Pepe Aguilar and Banda El Recodo Visit the Past, To Mixed Results

recodo horns

Over at OC Weekly, Gustavo Arellano overrates the new album by Pepe Aguilar, No Lo Había Dicho (Equinoccio), calling it “an audacious mix of vallenato, pop, banda, and ranchera that lands more often than not.” NorteñoBlog respectfully disagrees with both value judgments expressed in that sentence.

In 2016, there’s nothing “audacious” about mixing up those styles of music — especially for Aguilar, who’s been doing so longer than his contemporary Beck, who made his reputation with purportedly audacious musical mixology back in the ’90s. (Who can forget the mariachi version of “Jackass”?) Even if we limit our search for audacity to Aguilar’s field — the intersection of pop and ranchera known to radio programmers as “romantic Mexican music,” says Billboard‘s Leila Cobo — the idea of crossing over is nothing new. And since artists as diverse as Juan Gabriel, Juanes, Chiquis, Helen Ochoa, and Natalia Jiménez have all recently mashed up “traditional” styles with pop, Aguilar’s music fits right in. Genre mixing is definitely welcome, and it’s still little-heard on regional Mexican radio (the format probably played more genre mashups during the ’90s electro-banda-and-Tejano heyday), but Aguilar’s music has plenty of company in the wider world.

pepe aguilarExcept — here’s respectful disagreement part 2 — this album is so bad. Continue reading “Pepe Aguilar and Banda El Recodo Visit the Past, To Mixed Results”

NorteñoBlog’s Top Singles of 2016: Abril – Junio


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”

¡Indies a Go Go! (starring La Rumorosa, Los Rodriguez, y más)


la rumorosaIf there’s one thing NorteñoBlog loves, it’s a nasty kiss-off delivered with borderline psychotic cheer. If there’s another thing, it’s a pop song brassed up with a banda or mariachi chart. This week’s Pick to Click is both. La Rumorosa is the nombre de electro-polka of María Inés Ochoa, a Mexican singer with a thick alto and a mile-wide vibrato she deploys at dramatic moments. And make no mistake: every La Rumorosa song contains dramatic moments. Last year’s album Lamento (Espiral) has its intermittent moments of fun, too; but they’re not quite as fun as her new single “Todo Lo Que Merezcas.”

It’s a cover of a song by Spanish indie rocker Xoel López (what does the idea of an “indie label” even mean in Spain?), a song that wishes karmic justice upon someone who did the singer wrong. Neither López nor Rumorosa specifies what this cad did, but whatever the deed, it earned the doer some delicious curses. Rumorosa wishes they would lose all their air, drown in the silence, and cry every day; that their days would be filled with an infinite desert. (Maybe the perpetrator will wake up inside a Buñuel movie.) She belts all this in commanding ranchera fashion, over a jaunty accordion/brass polka, with a tuba-based rhythm section that sounds hopped up on lollipops. There’s even a synth solo fanfare in the middle. Honestly, before I ran the lyrics through Sr. Translator I thought this was the happiest song on earth.

La Rumorosa’s next album Yo Por Amor drops sometime in May. Pray do not cross her. Continue reading “¡Indies a Go Go! (starring La Rumorosa, Los Rodriguez, y más)”

NorteñoBlog’s Top Singles of 2016: Enero – Marzo

el armenta

Please excuse the note of shame in NorteñoBlog’s voice, but 2016 has gotten off to a more… focused start than last year. On the list (and YouTube playlist!) that follows, you’ll find no bands devoted to cumbia, no musicians from outside la patria, and — despite my doubtless inadequate searching — only one woman. (Karla Luna snuck on at the end, with a song that might end up growing on me. And Helen Ochoa‘s album deserves a listen.) What we’ve got here is nine norteño songs and six banda tunes by dudes who are pretty open about their lusts — if not for las mujeres, then for power and fancy wristwatches. But their music is no less compelling, because within those confines live several worlds of possibility.

El Armenta‘s big dumb cumbia (#1), Remmy Valenzuela‘s power ballad (#8), and Banda Pequeños Musical‘s pan flute monstrosity (#15) are all romantic banda songs that find vastly different paths to greatness. Or near greatness. The same thing happens on the norteño side. Though everyone’s working the same genre turf, Adriel Favela‘s guitar-saturated version of a new corrido standard (#3) couldn’t sound further from the Intocable love song (#10) with the distorted electric guitar and the show-offy accordion solo, as precise and memorable as a prime Van Halen break. Regional Mexican music pitches a bigger and more inventive tent than half the U.S. political system. Speaking of which, I sort of feel like El Armenta’s video, in which grotesque rubber-faced men enact an inexplicable ritual while carrying big sticks, gives us a terrifying preview of June’s Republican convention. At least nobody dies from the sticks.

1. El Armenta“El Perro Se Soltó” (Armenta)
Of all the big dumb banda cumbias I’ve heard this year, “El Perro” is the best, with horns and clarinets blaring all over the place and a churning beat that doesn’t quit until the perro in question barks at the end. The sound’s a little clipped in the head-scratcher of a video, which only adds to the Lynchian daytime nightmare feel of the whole endeavor. Continue reading “NorteñoBlog’s Top Singles of 2016: Enero – Marzo”

The John Mayers We’ve Been Looking For (Desfile de Éxitos 2/20/16)

roberto tapia

Tomen nota: Regional Mexican’s hot streak in the top 25 wanes this week, with Recodo, Séptima, Chuy Lizarraga, and Ariel Camacho‘s “Te Metiste” dropping off the Hot Latin chart. Banda and norteño acts hold down less than half the chart with 11 of the top 25 spots. The nuevo-Sierreño strums of Los Plebes del Rancho occupy two of those with a couple unlikely hits: a love song from 2014 and a new corrido about the head of their record label. If you’re keeping track at home, this extends Ariel Camacho’s death bump to almost a year.

But Los Plebes aren’t the only guitar heroes to chart this week. “Tomen Nota,” the duet between honey-voiced Adriel Favela and photogenic Sierreño badasses Los Del Arroyo, is threatening to take both acts into new territory: the Hot Latin top 20. This is partly thanks to the eye-catching video, in which our watch-enthusiast anti-heroes use their pistols to turn an everyday game of billiards into BUMPER POOL. On the other hand, said video came out last May, which gave it plenty of time to stream its way onto Hot Latin. I’m guessing the previous Pick to Click is hitting now because its increased radio presence, currently #9 on the Regional Mexican airplay chart, is in turn driving even more streams. ¡Sinergia! Continue reading “The John Mayers We’ve Been Looking For (Desfile de Éxitos 2/20/16)”

Indie Singles a Go Go (¡Nuevo!)

los grandes del pardito

la yegrosNorteñoBlog starts the day by wandering down to the next continent, as we do sometimes — specifically to Argentina, where the cumbia and its omnivorous psychedelic folk cousin chicha are still going strong, and the gauchos still roam the countryside. (I’m not sure whether “omnivorous psychedelic folk” is the best descriptor since it makes me think of the Grateful Dead, but let’s not worry about that now.) Buenos Aires singer La Yegros is back with her new single “Chicha Roja” (Waxploitation/Soundway); her album Magnetismo will come out in March. Nice song! It’s got a rolling I-wanna-say electro-acoustic cumbia beat, accordion and melodica (you can tell because a melodica appears in the animated Georgia-O’Keefe-on-shrooms video), crowd noises, a dense breakdown with flutes playing out of tune, and the appealing presence of La Yegros herself. Her voice sort of reminds me of Shirley Simms from the Magnetic Fields — only, you know, marshalling a cicha like a friendly dance commander.

los rodriguezThemselves no strangers to cumbias, indie corrideros Los Rodriguez de Sinaloa released a humdinger of one last year; I regret never having Picked to Click “Bye Bye.” Although I should note, norteño/banda cumbias differ from the South American kind, or even from the slow and steady cumbias favored by Mexican bands like Los Angeles Azules. Namely: norteño cumbias are way faster. Witness Julión Álvarez’s “Cumbia del Rio.” At his pace you can still hear the cumbia’s trademark “1 2-and 1 2-and” grind divvied up among the different instruments, but once a band starts approaching hyperspace — as in “Bye Bye” or Calibre 50’s current hit “La Gripa” — the subtleties of the beat smear into one homogeneous oompah.

Anyway, Los Rodriguez’s new single is NOT a cumbia, but the ice-cold breakup tune “Te Tengo De Cortar” (self-released). Taking a cue from K Camp, Los Rodriguez decide they need to leave this particular mujer where she stands, and it’ll be much less painful for the mujer in question if they end it with some quickness. Pulling off Band-Aids and whatnot. Los Rodriguez’s tuba player does his best to be convincing, particularly during the chunky, rapid-fire pre-choruses. The song lasts less than three minutes, but nearly every bar sounds like a big jagged glob of something shoved in your face. That’s a recommendation and a Pick to Click.

Continue reading “Indie Singles a Go Go (¡Nuevo!)”

¡Nuevo! (starring Trakalosa and Alfredo Olivas)

trakalosa uresti

We’ll start with esta semana’s pick to click, and it’s a weeper. It turns out Edwin Luna, lead singer of La Trakalosa de Monterrey, is very convincing portraying un “Adicto a la Tristeza.” It helps that his voice chimes like a throaty bell. Luna’s labelmate and guest singer, Pancho Uresti from Banda Tierra Sagrada, is somewhat less convincing because his voice is scratchy. When the woman in the video spurns his advances, he’ll feel nothing and should be able to pick up pretty easily with someone else. I myself am addicted to the urgency of their chorus melody, and a quarter-million Youtube viewers in the past two days seem to agree.

Other newish singles include Hijos de Barrón’s “Mis Quimeras” (LNG/Hyphy), featuring cool bass work and a syncopated groove;

“Así Es el Juego,” an underwhelming cover of Colmillo Norteño‘s profane kiss-off (in a couple senses), by Luis y Julián Jr. ft. Naty Chávez. It’s available in both obscene and family-friendly versions!;

and I’m not sure if this counts, but Graciela Beltrán throws herself into a new ballad, “Qué Tal Se Siente,” and it’s good to hear her voice.

The big new album this week is Alfredo Olivas’s El Privilegio (Sahuaro/Sony), which originally seemed to have come out late last year but maybe it was leaked. Olivas is an alumnus of several labels, including Fonovisa and the aforementioned Hyphy, here making his Sony debut. He’s also written songs for big names, so maybe Sony sees in his boyish grin the next Gerardo Ortiz?

The quintet Los Ramones de Nuevo Leon’s Con La Rienda Suelta (Grupo RMS) exists, as does a new retrospective from hyphy floggers (and Hyphy alums) Los Amos de Nuevo Leon, 20 Éxitos (Mar).

And I’m confused about Hyphy alums Los Rodriguez de Sinaloa — didn’t they just put out an album? Well, there’s another one out there called Entre El Rancho y La Ciudad (Independent), which so far seems more energetic than Sr. Olivas’s album.

What’s that? — you’re worried Hyphy music is under represented? — very well, the trio Los Kompitaz released 12 Corridos y Canciones at the end of 2014.

Accordionist, singer, businessman, and crier of single tears Fidel Rueda releases Música del Pueblo on his own Rueda label. His latest single “No Te Vayas” has stuttering accordion and horn lines that sound like they’re fighting to squeeze through his tear ducts.

Feeling romantic and/or cash-starved, Fonovisa has released it’s annual Bandas Románticas de América comp, which last year sucked. As companion pieces, they’ve compiled 20 Kilates Románticos for a bunch of groups, including Recodo, Primavera, Bryndis, Bukis — you know, groups who have never been compiled before.


los robleslos robles 2

Abundant biggish names this week, led by:

Banda Rancho Viejo – Dejando Huella (Disa)
Lawyer-turned-producer Fernando Camacho’s LATEST latest moneymaking scheme involves throwing songs at this group of colts, whose 2013 album I enjoyed a lot. Their new album leads with the meh single “De Por Vida,” but on first listen that’s the meh-est thing about it. The highlights are mostly covers: Alfredito Olivas’s “Con La Novedad,” Banda El Mexicano’s delirious study in phonemic differentiation “Ma, Me, Mi, Mo, Mu,” and best of all, Banda Brava’s even more delirious “Cumbia Con Opera,” a 1995 novelty of operatic interpolations that sounds like super-competent junior high kids goofing around. I’m enough of a hick that I find this hilarious.

Voz De Mando – Levantado Polvadera [Deluxe] (Afinarte/Sony)
You remember them — last week labelmates Dueto Consntido were playing “El Rolex” live in front of Voz De Mando’s drum kit. The title song has gone Top 20 Hot Latin, but the sixth-or-so full length by this tuba-anchored corrido band is disappointing, at least on first listen. Like Calibre 50 and LOS! BuiTRES!, whenever they try to break up their corrido onslaught with romantic ballads, their instruments have trouble filling the sonic space. Anemia ensues. Obviously the listening public disagrees with me because they’ve scored some big romantic hits.

Los Robles Del Norte – El Dinero (Frontera)
Los Robles already released one 2014 album, Desde Ojinagua Pal Mundo, with the exact same cover. Four months later, without even bothering to remove the old title, they’ve simply slapped a big pink “EL DINERO” on there and released 10 different songs. This is obviously as radical an act of commodification and semiotic collapse as anything Andy Warhol ever tried. First impression: they sound OK.

Los Rodriguez De Sinaloa – Me Miran Por Mayo (Hyphy)
Though I’ve never listened to a full album by this duo-plus-quartet, I’ve had a soft spot for them since they appeared on Hyphy’s El Corrido VIP comp a couple years ago. They were the most polished of the four bands on that collection, young go-getters while everyone else was bouncing off the cacti, but they were still more raucous than most major label corrido bands. Having since been nominated for “Corrido of the Year” at the Premios De La Radio, they’re back with this promising 16-songer. Lead single is a fast “¡Ay Chiquita!” number called “Lo Bonito De Tenerte,” pleasantly rambunctious.

Also new:
Alejandro Fernández – Confidencias Reales (Fonovisa)
Grupo Exterminador – Es Tiempo De Exterminador (Universal Latino)

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