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Natalia LaFourcade

¡Lo Mejor de 2018!

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In 2018, Regional Mexican radio chilled out. Amid the ever-shifting blend of genres that comprises the format, the two “new” styles that commanded the most attention sounded remarkably blase about their surging popularity. In fact, “command” seems like the wrong word for the genres of cumbia and corridos verdes, since they were just sitting around in a smoky haze, waiting for audiences to trip over them.

As Elias Leight explained in a spring Rolling Stone feature, cumbias have been around for decades, having traveled from South America throughout the Spanish-speaking diaspora over the last 70-or-so years. Turn-of-the-millennium hits from Los Angeles Azules, a swanky Mexican big band, have never outgrown their use as commercial bumper music on U.S. radio. The band’s recent resurgence culminated in a 2018 Coachella performance, dug by none other than Justin Bieber, and a current hit rearrangement of Natalia LaFourcade’s tune “Nunca Es Suficiente.” And that’s just the acoustic stuff.

The electronic technocumbia scene, pioneered by Selena and her producer brother A.B. Quintanilla in the mid ‘90s, got new energy from former nano-satellite engineer Edmundo Gómez Moreno, aka Raymix, and his unkillable singles “Oye Mujer” and “¿Dónde Estarás?” The Blog admires the mysterious modality of these singles and admits they don’t really sound like anyone else.The Blog also never wants to listen to them. Like the band Low, for whose 2018 album Double Negative I also didn’t have much time, Raymix zeros in on precisely one mood and hits his mark. It’s a feat that demands acknowledgement rather than repeated listening.

If Raymix songs seem like they might sound better stoned, corridos verdes make that theme explicit. Praised by Snoop, played mostly by young sierreño bands who weave hypnotic patterns from acoustic guitars and either bass or tuba, these songs can get sort of samey. If you thought shoutouts to narcos were getting old, or if you were having trouble differentiating weeping meditations on drinking away lost amors, wait until you hear a bunch of young dudes sing about how high they are. These guys stick to themes. Their songs are sometimes hilarious, though, and the tubists and lead guitarists occasionally stumble across moments that’ll legitimately drop your jaw, regardless of how much THC is in your blood. As with so much else, it depends which strain you get.

Corridos about smoking weed aren’t new, either, but they do represent a shift, at least in terms of mainstream radio fare. A boyband like T3R Elemento might occasionally sing about real-life narcos and the marijuana production business, but unlike the older generation of corrideros — Gerardo Ortiz, El Komander, Noel Torres — they make no pretense that they’re singing from experience or proximity. Born and raised in the U.S., T3R Elemento sings about weed from a bilingual suburban U.S. high school point of view, a vantage their video iconography reinforces. It’s similar to what we saw with the Bay Area’s hyphy movimiento a decade ago. That movement also focused on drug and alcohol consumption, with little reference to Mexico or the drug production narratives that had long dominated corridos. Call these movements “assimilation” if you want, but they represent wilder, less predictable patterns of assimilation than political discourse or radio programmers have led us to expect.

Of course, Regional Mexican radio still plays frantic dressage polkas from Marco Flores, and plenty of maudlin slow jams from the likes of Banda MS. Old narcocorridos from Los Tigres rub shoulders with new ones from El Fantasma. Frantic emotions and spirited boasts will never die; but neither will the phenomenon of getting really baked, and then singing about it.

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Having accounted for trends, here are 11 Regional Mexican albums the Blog recommends, genre by genre — in several cases paired with their higher profile inferiors.
Continue reading “¡Lo Mejor de 2018!”

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Yo Quiero Tu Saxo (junio 2018)

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It is NorteñoBlog’s longstanding position that the puro sax styles of Chihuahua and Zacatecas would improve with the addition of more terrible “sax” puns in the titles. The world’s top puro sax curator DJ Alfonzin directs me to the latest from Los Últimos de Topochico, a Monterrey seven-piece that’s been around since at least 2012 but has left a very small footprint in El Norte. They’re trying to change that with the male-gazey video for “Regálame Ésta Noche” (alternate title: “Sáxame Ésta Noche”), in which an extremely sheepish bro fantasizes about his hot girlfriend abandoning him and donning fancy lingere to hook up with another random woman they met at a restaurant. Astute YouTube commentor YsyNicole points out that this plot is a naked attempt to drive click traffic. The worst part is, Los Últimos are good enough that they didn’t need to seem so desperate. This “Regálame” is a far cry from Javier Solis’s sentimiento standard — it’s faster and catchier, and if you listen to this genre for the endless entwinings of sax and accordion, wrapping around one another like pea vine tendrils, this tune produces.

huapango de rockyThose seeking to avoid Los Últimos’ sexist clickbait scheme are directed instead to their “El Huapango de Rocky Balboa” (aka “Gonna Sax Now”), a crowd-pleasing medley of “Gonna Fly Now” and “Eye of the Tiger,” performed in the trickily subdiveded and lately hip huapango folk dance style. Or to their self-released 2017 EP, Los Perrotes de Monterrey, which opens with a huapango version of “Ghost Riders in the Sky” and remains just as delightful for three more songs. There’s a fine line between crassness and toxicity, as we learned from El Sistema de un Abajo, and those who fall squarely into the “crass” category deserve all the attention they can get. VALE LA PENA

sueno americanoWe last caught up with Dallas’s bestselling La Energia Norteña in late 2016, when their dull fifth album for the Azteca label was topping Billboard‘s Regional Mexican album chart. They’ve since released album #6, El Sueño Americano (suggested title: El Sueño Saxual), which is no less dull and sadly is not a sax-and-accordion-driven concept album about the plight of immigrants, although the saxless title lament addresses that topic. But maybe this critique is too short-sighted. Surely the plight of immigrants is a multifaceted plight, encompassing diverse subjects like SEDUCING WOMEN THE DAY BEFORE THEY MARRY SOMEONE ELSE AND CALLING IT THEIR “BACHELORETTE PARTY” (“Despedida de Soltera”)??? Talk about plight. Like calling a precious kitten “Big Guy” or Donald Trump “Mr. President,” “La Energia” seems to be a name bestowed with irony, since these guys make even their pre-wedding seductions sound staid. NO VALE LA PENA
Continue reading “Yo Quiero Tu Saxo (junio 2018)”

Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 2/16/16

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First off, NorteñoBlog congratulates friends of the blog Los Tigres, Natalia Lafourcade, and most charming man alive Pitbull on their recent Grammy wins. Los Tigres’ very good Realidades won for “Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano),” a category that included no Tejano albums but whose name testifies to the lingering power of the Tejano voting bloc. Or at least to the outspoken crankiness of the Tejano voting bloc. (I assume there’s still a Tejano voting bloc.) Lafourcade’s fine Hasta La Raíz tied with Pitty Wap’s intermittently banging Dale for “Best Latin Rock, Urban, or Alternative Album.” NorteñoBlog woulda picked Maquinaria Norteña for Regional and Bomba Estéreo for Rock/Urban/Alternative — after all, the Bombas excel in all three areas — but these were still respectable and relevant choices.

Next, NorteñoBlog congratulates Espinoza Paz for writing lots of decent, non-sappy songs recently. Paz is capable of biting hilarity — see Marco Flores’s “El Pajarito” and Los Horóscopos’ “Estoy Con Otro En La Cama.” He can also concoct musical experiments that look deceptively simple, like Arrolladora’s “Cabecita Dura” — 120 straight syllables without pause or apparent breath! — and straight up banda bangers like Roberto Tapia’s new single “Vale La Pena.” (That video seems to have fallen off a truck, so watch it while you can.) Back in 2009, after he’d won his second straight BMI songwriter of the year award, Billboard‘s Leila Cobo interviewed Paz, a former migrant worker who doesn’t read music.

Cobo: How would you describe your music?

Paz: Commercial.

True enough; and like most professionals he’s had some bad days at the office, especially in solo work like “Sin Esencia,” a pensive smell-the-fart guitar ballad. Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 2/16/16”

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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