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Noel Torres

NorteñoBlog’s Top Singles of 2015: Abril – Junio

cuisillos

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 Noel Torres, Omar Sánchez Omi, y más)

bobby pulido

Well this is the stuff of myth and legend:

Desde el filo de la sierra
Viene la historia que traigo:
Que por esas tierras
Suelta anda una fiera
Entre aquellos pinos altos…

From the edge of the sierra
Comes the story that I bring:
Through those lands
Freely walks a beast
Among those tall pines …

Plenty of corridos begin in a similar manner, of course, establishing their (anti)heroes as larger than life figures. But Noel Torres’s new single on Gerencia 360, “No Andan Cazando Venados” (“Don’t Go Hunting Deer”), opens with knowing mastery of the form. Torres begins by placing himself into the story as storyteller, thus joining the long historical line of corridistas, stretching back not just to Ramon Ayala but to Homer recounting the tales of brave Ulysses. (“Tell me, O Muse…”) Then things get scary. I admit I shuddered when I got to the part about the beast roaming through the tall pines — it’s such a contrast with the folksy opening, and “fiera” arrives at the end of its line with a jolt. Torres reclaims the word’s savagery. (I swear, if I hear one more TV chef tell me he’s “a beast in the kitchen”…) Now I just need to figure out the rest of the song. Something to do with the DEA and big-ass guns. The translation service is limited help in this case.

The song was written by El Diez and Danilo Avilés. El Diez is the shadowy figure who wrote the equally mythic “El Karma,” recorded most iconically by the late Ariel Camacho, but also by Torres and lots of other people. Avilés wrote the second song on Camacho’s El Karma album, and Torres’s arrangement of “Venados” sounds like he’s adapting 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. Pick to Click, obviously.

ramon ayalaShould you develop a hankering to delve into corrido history, the Freddie label has released a new Ramon Ayala comp entitled Corridos Famosos. Ayala’s muse speaks to him the tales of brave Gerardo Gonzales, Juanita y Miguel, y otros. No idea how this compares with other Ayala compilations out there.

If we’re already talking (probably) unnecessary cheapo Ramon Ayala reissues, you may have guessed it’s a light week for albums. You’re right! The singles, though, they never stop. Fonovisa has recently sent to radio new work from some of its heaviest hitters. Los Tigres are back with their third Realidades single, the midtempo waltz “Hoy Le Hablo El Diario,” which does the thing where the rhythm section rushes the second beat of every bar so the waltz feels slightly nauseating. In a good way. If you like beards and flannel and don’t wanna move to Seattle, Codigo FN has a slow one out called “Pinche Vieja Interesada,” which is less interesante than its title. Better are the new Proyecto X corrido “5 Letras,” reeling off verse after verse like a gold-plated machine gun eating up magazines, and Remmy Valenzuela’s very stripped-down chiquitita ballad “Menti,” in which his accordion seems capable of breath and thought.

Bobby PulidoBut who needs major label distribution when the internet frontier beckons musicians to simply release their own music? Tejano singer Bobby Pulido has been on the scene since the mid-’90s, and his new “Si No Te Hubiera Conocido” is a likable walking tempo number that could’ve come from Intocable — but does Intocable have its own line of Western wear (see top of page)? I submit that Intocable does NOT.

los grandesThe equally breezy Los Grandes de Tijuana DRANK YOUR LOVE! Just drank it right up. Los Grandes are also ’90s music lifers, and “Me Bebi Tu Amor” has the lazy front-porch-with-squeezebox vibe of Bob Dylan’s Tejano album Together Through Life, still my favorite of his post-’70s catalog.

omar sanchezNorteñoBlog swooned when Gerardo Ortiz mixed up the banda with the bachata in “Eres Una Niña,” and now I hear Omar Sánchez Omi trying something similar on “Tu y Yo.” Rhythmically it doesn’t vary too much from Recodo’s romantic moods, but Sánchez’s voice is husky and swarthy like King Romeo’s and could have some of the same R&B appeal, if enough people hear him. Sánchez used to sing for Chicago’s Alacranes Musical, one of my favorite duranguense bands, and there exists a photo of him dressed up like Santa Claus and standing next to Diana Reyes, so I’m pulling for him.

Los Maestros de CHOPS

accordion

Noel Torres – “Para Qué Tantos Besos”

You know the scene in Don’t Look Back where Donovan and Dylan are exchanging songs in a hotel room? And Donovan sings the perfectly innocuous “To Sing For You,” to which Dylan responds with a scathing rendition of “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue”? And he looks directly into the camera and sings with exaggerated diction the couplet, “Yonder stands your orphan with his gun/Crying like a fire in the sun“? And you don’t know whether he’s putting you on, reveling in the singularity of his word choices, sharing an inside joke with D.A. Pennebaker, or simply casting about for some way — any way — to sell a song? That’s the sense I get from Noel Torres when he over-enunciates his way through ballads these days. True, Luciano Luna doesn’t write with the colorful precision of “Baby Blue” — he’s more in the ballpark of “Make You Feel My Love” — but Torres is bringing that precision to singing Luna’s ballads, which may be even more important.
VALE LA PENA

(In the video for “Besos,” Torres fantasizes about making out with a hottie in a variety of scenarios, totally ruining her bowling and billiards games in the process. Turns out it was all a dream, she’s marrying somebody else, and Torres is stuck at her real-life wedding with a cheerful but far less bosomy woman. I’m certain this is a metaphor.)

Long-time readers will know that NorteñoBlog admires Torres for his accordion playing even more than his singing. He owns his sound; at PopMatters I wrote:

When playing his own songs, which is usually, [Torres] arranges them into short masterpieces of precision and control. He tosses off riff after riff, their notes connected by chromatic flurries, then hits startling passages of kickass mind-meldery with the rest of the band while he’s singing.

That is, he’s precise, controlled, and tossed-off, the sweet spot for much pop music, if not Western music in general. It’s stomp and swerve; or, as they used to teach us in classical piano lessons, technique and expression. This isn’t a dichotomy or a balance so much as a tug of war, and if you’re playing an instrument, the tug of war conveys the tight switchbacks of human thought better — that’s to say, with more convincing illusion — than either wind-up-toy virtuosity or lazy splats of rubato. And yes, it’s always an illusion. You’re not gleaning the innards of Torres’s mind directly from air moved through the folds of his squeezebox or voicebox, but heaven know he makes you believe you are.

(The rockist should note that electronic music, while using different techniques, can create the same virtuosic illusions — for instance, the hilarious timing effects in New Order’s “Blue Monday.” And sometimes “conveying human thought” isn’t the goal so much as “conveying utter alienation from human thought.” But I rarely go in for dystopian shit.)

In this spirit have I grappled with last year’s album by Remmy Valenzuela, De Alumno a Maestro (Fonovisa). Valenzuela is a corridista in Torres’ mold: he writes, sings, and leads the band, but mostly he plays his accordion like a beast. He’s got some good songs, too. His radio hit “Te Tocó Perder” switches tempos confidently, something you rarely hear on the radio; the breezy dance tune “El Borracho” sounds like something Kenny Chesney could adapt from his old blue chair. (Assuming he can get Google Translate on the beach.) If I were judging conjunto contests, Valenzuela would receive the one-plus rating his fingers so richly deserve.

In the comments of his ratings sheet, though, I would advise him to avoid turning into DragonForce. Valenzuela has yet to make his accordion and singing speak for themselves; right now all the accordion really says is, “I can play faster than whoever the DJ plays next.” That’s something. But it’s not the same as Torres’s trademark riffs — notes connected by chromatic flurries — that say, “Not only can I play faster than the next guy, but SOY NOEL TORRES; Y YO SOY EL AMO.” Valenzuela and his skilled, polite band sound like they want pats on the head; Torres and his bunch make you wanna cover your head.

Still, Valenzuela’s album is fun and merits a polite VALE LA PENA.

In the most recent issue of revista Triunfo, a third young turk named Alfredo Olivas shows that he grasps the issue, which I’ll shorthand “Should a Virtuoso Have a Personality?” He says, “A lo mejor no soy a mejor, pero sí tenemos un estilo ya muy marcado.” — roughly, “Maybe I’m not the best [accordion player], but we have a style all our own.” Listening to his 2011 album Así Es Esto (Fonovisa) and his new one Privilegio (Sahuaro/Sony), he may have a point. Granted, back in 2011 his style’s most distinctive technique was a sound many (read: “zero”) accordion experts call “sawing.” Since then he’s developed more finesse and his singing has gained authority, especially for a young guy. (Olivas is 20 but he sounds about twice that.) So far Privilegio is the year’s highest profile norteño release, but I still need more time with it.

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