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Fiesta Tercer Aniversario: LOS PICKS TO CLICK

alfredo olivas wary

Welcome to NorteñoBlog’s fourth year! As I survey the previous twelve months of radness, several themes emerge:

fantasmaSierreño is no longer a novelty. The guitar + tuba-or-bass style is now as prevalent as its country cousins, banda and accordion-based norteño. Although the style has existed for decades, you can trace its popularity back to the 2015 death of young singer-guitarist Ariel Camacho, which cemented sierreño as both young people’s music and a vehicle for pop hits. Two Camacho-related bands — Los Plebes del Rancho de Ariel Camacho and Ulices Chaidez y Sus Plebes — appear below, as do established norteño/banda stars Gerardo Ortiz and Remmy Valenzuela, jumping on the sierreño bandwagon with corridos and romantic ballads. One of the year’s biggest breakout stars, man-myth-legend El Fantasma, scored a long charting hit with the guitar corrido “Mi 45,” in the process becoming one of California’s most streamed Latin artists.

comere calladoGerardo Ortiz continues to dominate. You wouldn’t know it by looking at his album sales, but artistically, nobody in the genre had a better 2017. His sierreño-biting Comeré Callado album was a rebound from 2015’s disappointing Hoy Más Fuerte, with better songs and typically stunning band interplay. He was also featured on excellent norteño and bachata singles (see below), and notably did not release any videos showing him murdering women. I only accomplished one of those things.

La-Nueva-Onda-Norteña-V-Hell-Yea-2017-500x500Like Civil War reenactments and teen slasher movies, puro sax music will never die. The jaunty norteño subgenre, whose songs definitely do not all sound the same, continues to do several things well. It’s an excellent accompaniment to doing chores. Like freestyle, it pits bouncy uptempo music against bereft emo lyrics, to the benefit of both. And it pulls all kinds of other stuff — notably the huapango folk dance and alt-rockers Caifanes (see below) — into its deranged but happy orbit.

christian-nodalI wish I liked mariacheño and socially conscious corridos more than I do. Christian Nodal released an excellent, career-defining debut single, “Adios Amor,” and then followed it up with a boring but well-reviewed mariachi album. Calibre 50 released a heartfelt sigh of an immigration story, “Corrido de Juanito,” that meant a lot to some very smart people. Given the choice, though, I’d rather listen to the parade of reprehensible narcocorridos scattered below. Bands like La Nueva Rebelión draw swaggering energy from their illicit subject matter, turning narco music into a thrilling and paradoxically life-affirming force. Not that musicians can’t walk and chew gum at once — last year especially,
El Komander succeeded with both kinds of stories.

la villarrealWhere are all the women? I’m sorry to say, this is one area where the Blog seems to be getting worse, not better, and I’m not sure if it’s my fault or the industry’s. This year the Blog enjoyed singles by Alicia Villarreal (her album La Villarreal is way better mariachi pop than Nodal’s), Lucero, Diana Reyes, and Chiquis Rivera, but didn’t Pick to Click them, simply because there was better stuff those particular weeks. The latest countrified album from blog fave Laura Denisse was more of a chore than her last one, although it may be growing on me (and I just saw she has a Christmas album! Must research…). Los Horóscopos have been MIA lately. As Victoria ‘La Mala’ has pointed out, Mexican regional music remains a man’s world — the sheer amount of music produced by men overwhelms that of the women. That said, the year’s most exciting new voice belonged to Ángela Aguliar, who showed rich confidence on two wonderful duets with her father Pepe. (See below.)

Anyway, here they are: the past year’s worth of Picks to Click. Thanks for reading, and happy listening!

11/17/16: “Que Perrón” by La Séptima Banda
A big dumb cumbia ode to the modern world’s sexually assertive mujeres. As you might expect, such mujeres make La Séptima Banda very happy, especially the dude in the middle of the song who sheepishly admits, “I’m ugly.”

12/2/16: “Traigo Ganas de Pistiar” by Escuela de Rancho, Los Orejones de la Sierra, y La Bandeña
It scarcely matters what the song “Traigo Ganas” is about. I mean, I know it’s about getting drunk — the song opens with the sound of cans being cracked open, and anyway, I’m sure you’ve met low brass players — but what matters is the stupendous way this makeshift octo-quin-trio makes you feel all giddy and swivelly by jumping from one part of the song to the next.
Continue reading “Fiesta Tercer Aniversario: LOS PICKS TO CLICK”

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More Women and Mariachi, Less “Despacito” on Mexican Radio

aliciavillarealNorteñoBlog’s summer doldrums continue on the U.S. Hot Latin chart, where there’s only one regional Mexican song in the top 25 — [Casey Kasem voice:] at #23, here’s Gerardo Ortiz with the worst song from his new album! [/Casey Kasem voice] — and only 11 in the entire top 50. This is a historical anomaly. We’ve seen plenty of periods with more norteño and banda songs stuffed into the top 25: witness this chart from 2016, with 13 such singles, and who can forget the mid-’90s Tejano boom? Plenty of people can, but that’s not the point. The point is, why now?

Old dude’s hypothesis: it’s the internet’s fault. [Casey Kasem shakes fist at sky: “Millennials! You’re not reaching for the stars!”] The Hot Latin chart bakes in three different methods of song consumption, weighted according to a top secret algorithm. Regional Mexican music still gets plenty of airplay, leading to a fair number of hat acts among the diverse entries on the Latin Airplay chart. It’s the other two factors — digital sales and online streaming — where norteño and banda acts are struggling to keep pace.

bastaNorteñoBlog’s theory, unsupported by data because I don’t have it, is that the unprecedented popularity of “Despacito” is benefitting songs that sound like “Despacito,” and those songs’ streaming numbers are overwhelming the songs that don’t sound like “Despacito.” With three billion views, “Despacito” is now the most-watched video in YouTube history, and that’s just the version without Bieber. Videos and songs that follow it on streaming services are like sitcoms that followed Friends in the ’90s — automatic ratings contenders. CNCO, “Mi Gente,” “Felices Los 4” are all getting chart boosts because they’re dembow-ish bangers, often with international crossover appeal, that get recommended by YouTube or appear with “Despacito” on Spotify playlists. No matter how many norteño fans stream Calibre 50’s lite beer jingle “Las Ultras” or the latest Banda MS ballad, regional Mexican songs simply can’t keep up.

Prediction: This too shall pass. Eventually, the popularity of “Despacito” will fade. (Judging by the two-year chart run of “Propuesta Indecente,” that could take a while.) Once that happens, we’ll see more regional Mexican songs back on the big U.S. chart. If not, NorteñoBlog promises to have an existential crisis.

¡Jajaja! Just kidding. Not when there’s still cool shit happening on the Mexican radio. This week the Mexican radio chart sees two overlapping boomlets: three songs led by women (I know that doesn’t seem like much, but trust me, around here it’s refreshing) and three mariachi songs.

Alicia Villarreal - Haz Lo Que QuierasCovering both bases are Alicia Villarreal, formerly of Grupo Límite and solo cumbia radness, and Ángela Aguilar singing a duet with her dad Pepe. Villarreal is singing an original high-drama number called “Haz Lo Que Quieras,” produced like much of her work by her husband, former Kumbia King Cruz Martínez.

tu sangre en mi cuerpoBracing stuff; but since I tend to take my schmaltz stirred rather than shaken, I prefer the Aguilars’ “Tu Sangre En Mi Cuerpo,” a frankly cloying remake of… someone’s parent-kid duet that I will someday request at my daughter’s wedding reception. [Casey Kasem voice: “Their relationship quickly became strained.”] (Note: the song’s authors are Jose Luis Ortega Castro, Thelma Ines De La Caridad Castaneda Pino, and Yessica Sandoval Pineda; just not sure who did the original version.) Like Vicente Fernandez’s “Estos Celos,” this tune hits all my smooth mariachi buttons: soaring voices and strings milking high notes for maximum emotion while the chugging beat makes them sound like they’re tossing off everything — notes, burdens, hats, whatever. It’s the sound of a breeze blowing wispy clouds across a flat blue sky. Pepe’s career is long and distinguished, but Angela has been a real revelation this year, with a warm and inviting voice that reminds me of Gloria Estefan’s. Their last duet, the big smart cumbia “Nada de Nada”, earned the Blog’s affection, and this one carries on the legacy. Pick to Click!

Continue reading “More Women and Mariachi, Less “Despacito” on Mexican Radio”

¡Indies a Go Go! (starring Los Hijos de Hernández y más)

lalomoralaurita

lalo-moraThis week in the “norteño legend covers the Great Ranchera Songbook” department, we find Lalo Mora, formerly of the ’70s duo Lalo y Lupe and the ’80s band Los Invasores de Nuevo León. Mora’s been making solo music on labels big and small for a while now, and on his latest, Un Millón de Primaveras (Mora), he’s hired a banda to help him dig through some classics. The horn charts are decent and Mora’s grizzled voice settles into the tunes with effortless authority, but you’ve probably heard these songs done better elsewhere. NorteñoBlog directs you to Joan Sebastian‘s country-with-horns take on the title track, which he wrote; and to Vicente Fernández‘s trembling and magisterial version of “El Ultimo en la Fila,” which Sebastian also wrote. Lest you think the entire Great Ranchera Songbook sprang from Joan Sebastian’s tear-stained pen, Mora also sings “Cartas Marcadas” and some other decidedly non-Sebastian tunes. The album’s technically accomplished, but I never need to hear it again: NO VALE LA PENA.

leonardo-aguilarLeonardo Aguilar has lucked into some decidedly less accomplished banda charts on his debut album Gallo Fino (Machin) — if you wanna hear clarinets cloy hard, check out this single from a couple years ago. No matter: I like Aguilar’s album better than Lalo Mora’s. Continue reading “¡Indies a Go Go! (starring Los Hijos de Hernández y más)”

Who’s On the Mexican Radio? (1/6/17)

joss-favela-768x403

It’s been six weeks or so since NorteñoBlog checked in with Mexico’s airwaves, so you might think all the songs would be different. ¡Qué sorpresa! Apparently as the year nears its end, the music industry’s release schedule slows down across the continent. Fewer than half the songs have disappeared from this normally fast-changing chart. Among the new ones:

nada-de-nada— At #9, Pepe Aguilar has invited his daughter Ángela sing backup on the lickety split banda tune “Nada de Nada,” written by José Luis Roma of the bro band Río Roma. It’s an impressive band workout, with tuba and percussion burbling along like synth polyrhythms and the horns draping sweeping melodic lines over everything. It’s also a fine meta-song about how the singer has writer’s block in the face of his lover’s anhedonia. (At least, her anhedonia towards him.) Both singers undersell the song, making it one of banda music’s rare Big Smart Cumbias. Aguilar acquits himself well for releasing one of 2016’s most overrated albums, and gets himself a second Pick to Click:

— Speaking of Picks to Click, Joss Favela is in at #16 with his previous champ “No Vuelvas a Llamarme.” It’s one of the ace songwriter’s top-shelf tunes, even if the chords borrow from Gerardo Ortiz’s “Archivos de Mi Vida” (and probably lots of other songs). The interplay between accordion and rhythm section is on point and, whaddya know, the words — about how Favela’s always too busy to take your calls — are funny. Add it to your shiny new Best Singles of 2017 lists post haste. VALE LA PENA

edwin-luna— At #8 we find the latest Very Important Video in Edwin Luna‘s crusade to become a famous actor, fill the world with brotherly love, and get real boned. Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? (1/6/17)”

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”

Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 5/3/16

bien servida

Welcome to the Mexican charts, where change, as my cosmetic podiatrist likes to say, is afoot. Although it’s been several weeks since NorteñoBlog tuned in to the Mexican radio, the rate of turnover feels much quicker there than in El Norte. For example, check out the norteño and banda songs that have been hanging around the charts the longest:

U.S. Hot Latin:
#19 – “Ya Te Perdí La Fe” by Arrolladora, 26 weeks
#4 – “Solo Con Verte” by Banda MS, 25 weeks
#13 – “Broche de Oro” by Trakalosa, 24 weeks
#14 – “Tomen Nota” by Adriel Favela ft. Los Del Arroyo, 20 weeks
#19 – “DEL Negociante” by Los Plebes del Rancho de Ariel Camacho, 20 weeks

Mexican Popular:
#8 – “Tragos de Alcohol” by El Komander, 14 semanas
#13 – “Préstamela a Mí” by Calibre 50, 14 semanas
#17 – “El Borrachito” by Julión Álvarez, 14 semanas
#7 – “Espero Con Ansias” by Remmy Valenzuela, 13 semanas
#12 – “María” by Pepe Aguilar, 11 semanas

I know what you’re thinking: the Mexican list is way better, and not just because you’re sick of all the U.S. songs after five months! You’re right, but that quality judgment is probably just a coincidence. (And one that doesn’t account for NorteñoBlog’s fave wristwatch porn jam “Tomen Nota.”) You might also be thinking these two charts aren’t equivalent, because Hot Latin measures radio plus streams plus downloads, whereas the Mexican Popular chart only measures radio. Verdadero; but if you check out Billboard‘s radio-only Regional Mexican chart, the U.S. songs have charted for roughly the same amount of time, give or take a week, plus you find Adictiva’s certified 37-weeker “Después de Ti, ¿Quién?”, a real tantric filibuster. Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 5/3/16”

Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 4/12/16

horacio palencia

The sometime sociopaths in ¡LOS! BuiTRES! (at #19) couldn’t do it — not even singing a tune by tubthumper de amor Horacio Palencia. Neither could Banda MS, in at #18 with their second slo-mo slow dance on the chart. You might think it inevitable that Banda el Recodo would get the job done, but #4 “Inevitable” isn’t the tune.

Nope: none of this week’s Mexican chart debuts possesses the indescribable and unquantifiable blend of moxy, verve, hooks, indelible vocal timbre and/or inventive instrumental work needed to claim the coveted title of NorteñoBlog Pick to Click.

The Mexican top 20 isn’t a total wasteland. Alfredo Olivas‘s pick from two weeks ago sits atop the chart, and Remmy Valenzuela‘s terrific #3 power ballad just entered the U.S. Hot Latin chart at #49. (Speaking of which, the U.S. charts don’t have any good new songs either. Not even “Cicatriiices,” Regulo Caro‘s bouncy ode to scarred hearts, Pulp Fiction crime sprees, and unusual spelling conventions. Ayiyi.) Readers with paternalistic messiah complexes might want to check out Pepe Aguilar at #17. Readers with drinking problems should stay as far as possible from Banda Tierra Sagrada at #12. Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 4/12/16”

Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 3/8/16

pepe-aguilar

To hear Billboard‘s Leila Cobo tell it, singer-songwriter-producer Pepe Aguilar changed the industry of Regional Mexican music. Known for his giant sombreros and even bigger romantic mariachi ballads, this son of ranchera star Antonio Aguilar started his career as a rocker, he told Cobo in 2004:

Q: So what does a regional Mexican singer know about rock?

A: You should have met me when I had an earring and long hair! I recorded a rock album in 1987, before recording rancheras. Rock has been my inspiration and my best weapon. My Mexican music sounds the way it sounds because of rock. I produce and write everything I do musically based in rock.

Q: What happened with that album?

A: It flopped [laughs].

In 2012, Cobo credited Aguilar with essentially creating a new radio format. “Thanks directly to Aguilar’s contemporary readings on traditional music, radio stations that had never played mariachi opened up to the genre and, to this day, ‘romantic Mexican music’ is the programming base of dozens of stations around the country.” The closest Chicago comes to that format is Amor 106.7, where Pepe Aguilar is indeed a “core artist” but they also play bachata and Enrique. The point is, Aguilar’s traditional music has always had an element of crossover, and you can hear that in his latest banda single “María”, sitting at #9 this week on the Mexican chart.

“María” flaunts Aguilar’s crossover pedigree. With its pounding cumbia beat, its minor-key chord progression, and Aguilar’s seductive (and often multitracked) croak, it sounds like a stadium football banger filtered through a banda. It’s telling that Aguilar’s aside of choice is a grunted “hungggh!”, rather than the banda singer’s typical falsetto gritos. Add to that the high-concept video, where Aguilar stalks the nighttime city streets dressed all in black, eyes hidden behind intimidating sunglasses, using his magical touch to turn homeless women and whores into respectable ladies who dance around in bright primary colors. (One of them evangelizes some street toughs — this is the kind of retrograde video symbolism that inspires people to resurrect the term “street toughs” — who then paint a respectable wall mural. Of “María,” I guess.) Even in the most elaborate and sexist banda videos, singers rarely paint themselves as saviors. Whether lovers, cuckolds, protesters, or well-connected men about town, they belong to the scenes they depict. Aguilar here presents himself as savior and transformer, a transcendent figure — just as he sees himself within the regional Mexican scene?

Since the song sounds pretty good, we’ll let him think that if he wants. Pick to Click!

Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 3/8/16”

100 Regional Mexican Compilations Released in 2015

calibre 50 mejor

The hyper-abundant compilation album is one of the more bewildering aspects of the Regional Mexican music industry. There are a LOT of them — witness this Allmusic list of more than 50 Conjunto Primavera comps since 1995, released on eight different record labels. Lately some music-writer friends and acquaintances have observed a dearth of compilation albums in recent years, given listeners’ ability to cherrypick their own songs on streaming sites. NorteñoBlog does not dispute this observation; I’ll only add that the compilation market in Regional Mexican is still going strong. This year saw four new Primavera comps, on two different labels. Who’s buying these things? Don’t they already own all these songs?

Without answering these questions, NorteñoBlog presents this list of 100 single- (or, in the case of Sony’s Frente a Frente series, double-) artist comps released on CD in 2015. It doesn’t include multi-artist comps like Fonovisa’s annual Radio Éxitos: Discos Del Año series. This list is incomplete; I’m pretty sure I could find more by scouring the catalogs of indie labels Select-O-Hits and D&O.

Some items of interest: Continue reading “100 Regional Mexican Compilations Released in 2015”

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