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NorteñoBlog’s 41 Esencial Songs Since the Year 2000

jenni-rivera-diva-de-la-banda

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”

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Los Reyes del Underground? Noel Torres, Los Plebes del Rancho, y El Fantasma en Desfile de Éxitos 9/30/17

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Norteño, banda, sierreño, and the newfangled one-man genre of mariacheño have begun to claw their way back onto Billboard‘s Hot Latin chart — we’re up to 11 regional Mexican songs in the top 50 this week, from only eight four weeks ago. As they claw, it’s time for an installment of NorteñoBlog’s rarely repeated feature Record Label Report, mostly because this week’s most interesting songs are on indie labels, and I can’t think of anything else to write about.

Noel Torres - Se Vinieron Los Problemas-300x300ITEM! Hotshot accordion slinger Noel Torres has left the relative safety of the Sony-distributed Gerencia 360 label, instead opting for the ????-distributed wilds of his own NT label. The Blog has found no internet evidence of controversy or Los Plebes-style explotación driving Torres away from his previous label; but if you’re wondering why that “cien por cien norteño” followup to his last, fairly terrible banda album never materialized, this may explain why. Torres’s debut indie album La Vida a Mi Modo (NT) is not cien por cien norteño, but it’s about half and half, with someone’s hot lead guitar accompanying both norteño and banda arrangements, in the style of his previous wicked single “No Andan Cazando Venados.”

Torres’s newfound lack of commercial clout is evident, though. In 2016, the aforementioned banda album debuted at #2 on the Regional Mexican Albums chart; before that, La Balanza debuted at #1. NT dropped La Vida on August 4 and it has yet to chart; we’ll see if his pretty good narcocorrido single, the fake friends lament “Se Vinieron Los Problemas” (#39 at radio), helps matters. Dude can still play accordion, that’s for sure.

la suerte¡ÍT! Speaking of exploiting or not exploiting Los Plebes del Rancho de Ariel Camacho, they’ve got a couple radio songs out there right now. The better tune is the rags-to-riches narcocorrido “La Suerte,” the lead-off title track of their April album, released on the indie JG label. The narrator of “La Suerte” started at the bottom as an errand boy and now, with loyal friends handling his raw materials and offices in the Americas and Europe, has gone intercontinental if not ballistic. (“Nadie batalla conmigo,” he claims, and it is in your interest to believe him.) Israel Meza is the tuba player; like DEL Records’ Omar Burgos, Meza used to play with the late Ariel Camacho, and he’s got some real whack-a-mole solos between stanzas here, popping up to taunt the smoother guitar and vocals of his 20-year-old bandleader, José Manuel López Castro. Pick to Click!


Continue reading “Los Reyes del Underground? Noel Torres, Los Plebes del Rancho, y El Fantasma en Desfile de Éxitos 9/30/17”

Estimado Noel Torres…

noel torres

NOEL.

Noelnoelnoelnoelnoelnoelnoel.

We need to talk.

You may be the most gifted corridero of your generation. You play accordion better than almost anyone, certainly better than Gerardo Ortiz, and I even prefer you to Remmy Valenzuela because I can tell it’s you playing, the way you slide around the main notes of the melody on little flurries of fast notes. It’s a performing tic, but it’s a good and versatile performing tic and you don’t lean on it too hard. If this whole singer-songwriter thing dries up, you could become a session pro — just build yourself a studio and punch your genius into the music of people willing to pay for it. Your fingers could even make Luis Coronel albums worth hearing.

Your playing sounds even better in the middle of a band just as good, if not better, than you are. Not only do you hire the best players, but you get them to play as a band, unequaled in power and sheer density of radness per second. Your corridos are like The Avengers: Fight for Culiacán — only filmed in super widescreen, so we can dispense with all those quick cuts and just observe everyone’s awesome deeds at once. You can be Iron Man or whoever, I don’t care. El Pulpo‘s like the Hulk, bashing away on some narco’s private jets inside the booming expanse of a hangar. Whoever plays bass — you should really start crediting them — can be Captain Norteamérica, holding the team together. Is George Ramos OK with being Scarlet Witch, but reborn as a bajo sexto player? His chords mess with everyone’s minds and alter reality and whatnot. Doesn’t matter. The point is, your small norteño bands are overwhelming and absorbing, up there with some of human civilization’s greatest work. We’re talking Guernica, or Ornette Coleman’s album with Pat Metheny.

I understand why you’d wanna sing romantic banda tunes. Continue reading “Estimado Noel Torres…”

How Do We Hear Violent Corridos? (Desfile de Éxitos 3/12/16)

los tucanes

Thanks to Los Tucanes de Tijana, NorteñoBlog has been forced into another installment of our occasional feature HASTY CARTEL GOOGLING. This long-running quintet of corrideros is nothing if not consistent, and they’re back at #20 on the Regional Mexican airplay chart with “Panchito El F1,” a pro forma cartel ballad ripped from the headlines by their prolific songwriter Mario Quintero. The story concerns a real life honcho of the Gulf Cartel in Zacatecas. Until recently he operated under the nombres de cartel “Panchito” and “F1,” but was captured along with coworkers in May. The federales also confiscated some of the cartel’s heavy weaponry, including four grenade launchers and four AK47s. (No andan cazando venados con esa mierda, amirite?) The song is Panchito’s origin story: when ordered to kill someone else’s family, he refuses. As a penalty, his own family is kidnapped and tortured, but he gets them back. (I think; standard gabacho translation caveats apply.) The corrido also mentions a different Gulf Cartel honcho named Comandante Hamburguesa. Since this Hamburgler appears to be still at large, NorteñoBlog will leave his Hasty Cartel Googling up to you!

Does current Mexican law permit narcocorridos on the radio? This recent article suggests “Panchito El F1” is probably banned from Mexico’s airwaves because it “publicly supports criminal actions.” (I’m sure the Gulf Cartel is wondering why membership is down.) As we saw in our last round of Hasty Cartel Googling, this ban is not absolute: La Séptima Banda recently charted with the wafer-thin character study “El Hijo del Ingeniero,” based on the party habits of a real life cartel scion. But that’s a party song. “F1” has violence and weaponry and is not the sort of thing the Mexican government wants impressionable muchachos to hear. You know, all those muchachos who listen to the radio but don’t know how to work Youtube.

NorteñoBlog does not support banning violent corridos from the radio, because banning violent corridos from the radio is silly. Corrido bans are the ineffective smokescreens of an utterly failed war on drugs. Better to focus on the corruption that prevents Mexico from thoroughly prosecuting its criminals. Better to alleviate Mexico’s poverty, or to deal with drug-addicted El Norte; these are the blights that have driven Mexican people to the cartels. (A possibly optimistic statistic: “A 2012 study by the Mexcian Institute of Competitiveness (IMCO) figured if the U.S. legalized marijuana, Mexican drug cartels would lose 30 percent of their revenue.”) There are no simple solutions; but whatever the solutions might be, neoliberal outrage over suppressing free speech is a secondary issue.

So here’s the real question when it comes to songs like “F1”: What do people hear in violent corridos, and why? Continue reading “How Do We Hear Violent Corridos? (Desfile de Éxitos 3/12/16)”

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”

El Karma Comes Back To You Hard

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Alternate headline: NorteñoBlog Steps On Pitchfork

That’s right, my first article at the illustrious music website Pitchfork.com is also Pitchfork’s first article about Regional Mexican music. It’s all about Ariel Camacho’s song “El Karma,” which longtime NB readers know I like a bit. Here’s the opening:

So far in 2015, six different songs have topped Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart. Five of them involved slick, established stars like Enrique Iglesias singing about love or dancing, but the sixth hit was different. It was a corrido, part of Mexico’s century-old ballad tradition about everyday heroes facing impossible odds; according to Salon’s Alexander Zaitchik, corridos are like “contemporary news reports—a Mexican version of Chuck D’s description of rap as black America’s CNN.” With the rise of Mexican drug cartels over the last few decades, corridos have largely given way to narcocorridos, story songs lauding the exploits of illicit kingpins and their employees. But before last March, no narcocorrido had ever hit #1 on the Hot Latin chart.

Then came “El Karma”…

Read all about it at the ‘Fork! You’ll notice the NB has changed our header to mark the occasion: Hats off to Omar Burgos, Los Plebes’ astounding tuba player.

Shot Through El Corazón: Sinaloa Muscles In On Latin Pop

I wrote this a couple years ago for Maura Magazine; I reprint it here with their kind permission.

———————————

“He’s really good,” said my librarian Fatima, handing me the new Noel Torres CD. She’d seen him live in Chicago a few months back. I’d never heard of the guy — when it comes to library CDs, I have no standards and few expectations. La Estructura, featuring Torres’s perfectly trimmed hair and penetrating scowl, immediately moved to the top of my stack.

Noel_Torres_-_La_Estructura

Fatima knew what she was talking about. When you hear La Estructura, the most appropriate response is awe, followed by abject humility and despair because you will never create anything as good or alive or technically accomplished, as upending of your expectations. “I can’t even fathom what his band is doing,” went my first attempt at an explanation. Torres is a young man from the northwestern Mexican state of Sinaloa. He sings, plays the accordion, writes most of his songs, and leads a four-piece norteño band as well as an occasional brass band. His unadorned singing gets the job done; at all other tasks he is a motherfucker. Tossing off blazing accordion riffs with the “top this!” spirit of ‘80s hair metal, he leads his band through variations on polkas and waltzes. But while much Sinaloan norteño music simply bounces along, arid and sparse, the Torres band fills every instant with rambunctious noise. Tuba and bajo quinto fall all over each other, the drummer bashes like he’s playing on a John Zorn record, and somehow all this craziness congeals into steady pulses and familiar forms. My second attempt at explanation was one word: “brutal.”
Continue reading “Shot Through El Corazón: Sinaloa Muscles In On Latin Pop”

Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 9/29/15

el mimoso

Mexico and the U.S. might not agree on how to end the drug war or where to store El Chapo, but say this for international unity: we both love us some Banda MS. The banda’s uncharacteristically snappy “Piénsalo” continues at #1, both on the Mexican “Popular” chart and on Billboard‘s Regional Mexican chart, which measures U.S. airplay. Within the genre, they occupy the same position Arrolladora did a couple years ago, where any single they release is guaranteed to inundate radio playlists and hang out high on the charts for a couple months. (Not that Arrolladora’s doing badly for themselves lately — see #7 below.) I for one welcome our new romantic overlords and would like to encourage them to play a unity concert for the Supreme Leader of Iran.

New and notable this week:

At #12, Noel Torres’ ballad “Me Interesas” finally enters the Mexican chart, more than a year after topping U.S. airplay. More notable as an accordion hero and corridero, Torres also knows how to do banda romance right, largely because he knows his own voice. Nobody’s ever gonna mistake him for the world’s greatest crooner, so he skimps on the vibrato and instead delivers each lyric with forthright efficiency that cuts through the sentiment. Hearing him grow more confident with ballads has been an unexpected pleasure of following his career. (Don’t confuse “Me Interesas” with El Komander’s “Me Interesa,” returning to this chart at #16 and not nearly so interesante. Nobody’s ever gonna mistake El Komander for the world’s greatest crooner either, but he has fewer coping strategies for ballads.) An unenthusiastic Pick to Click!, then — did I mention this song is really old?

Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 9/29/15”

Ask a Norteño Fan: Juan Carlos talks Movimiento Alterado

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“The first time when I hear the corridos — ‘Sanguinarios del M1’ — when I hear that song and when I see how these guys dress, I like it, and I buy a lot of clothes and I like a lot of style of those guys, of those groups… the Movimiento Alterado.”

So says Juan Carlos, a 25-year-old norteño fan who lives and works mixing chemicals near Chicago. Though his family hails from the central Mexican state of Guanajuato, he mostly treasures the new corridos coming out of Sinaloa, a few states to the northwest. His first love, “Sanguinarios,” was the 2010 flagship song of Movimiento Alterado, a loose affiliation of wannabe millionaires playing ultraviolet horror-corridos under the aegis of Burbank-based producers Adolfo and Omar Valenzuela, aka “Los Twiins.” They’re the guys in the “Sanguinarios” video who scowl at you last, and the only ones who don’t sing a verse.

Listeners with a vested interest in the 100-year-old corrido tradition tend to despise Alterado, but for many young fans like Juan Carlos, the movement defines “corrido.” Continue reading “Ask a Norteño Fan: Juan Carlos talks Movimiento Alterado”

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