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Remmy Valenzuela

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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Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 9/11/17

ulices chaidez women

First things first: our friends in Mexico, especially southern Mexico and the Gulf coast, are dealing with the twin destructive forces of a magnitude 8.1 earthquake and Hurricane Katia. People have lost family, friends, and homes in the states of Oaxaca, Chiapas, Tabasco, and Veracruz. If you can swing it, this website has a list of organizations, including the Red Cross and UNICEF, that can use your cash to help people recover from the destruction. Remember, Mexico has sent all kinds of help to Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Now Mexico needs help; and since climate change doesn’t care whether we dig Tejano or huapango or (G-d save us) “Despacito,” now is a good time for us to practice dealing with its fallout. Climate change’s fallout, not “Despacito”‘s. Although feel free to help Puerto Rico out, too.

omar burgos delNow, on with the countdown! This past weekend in Chicago I was playing the radio game “ScanQuiz!”, where you hit “Scan” on the car radio and try to name each song you hear before the radio moves on to the next station. Besides being a superfun test of mettle, ScanQuiz! is also a good way to survey who’s broadly popular with radio listeners. Shawn Mendes and Imagine Dragons are always lurking somewhere. Led Zeppelin will never die. And tubist Omar Burgos, by virtue of playing with both versions of Los Plebes del Rancho and los Plebes de Ulices Chaidez, has created one of the most dominant instrumental sounds on Chicago radio. Scan for a half hour and you’re likely to hear a sierreño song, probably played by one of Burgos’s bands; but even if the tubist is someone else, his bandleader owes his popularity to Burgos’s late employer Ariel Camacho, whose own posthumous hits still pop up like White Walkers.

porque me enamoreBurgos and Chaidez are also doing well in Mexico, where this week their year-old song “Porque Me Enamore” ascends to #2. (In El Norte, the song is #1 at RegMex radio.) You can catch them in the very special video, both “recording” in the studio and offering support to a young lady at her chemo sessions. This is standard-issue sierreño prettiness, and not the most memorable example of the style, but you can see why it’s big. Chaidez sings with misty teenage sensitivity and just the hint of an edge to his voice, and Burgos propels the arrangement with an opening flourish, flutter tongue madness, cool little pendulumic swings into his notes — just an endless variety of ideas and effects, all of which enhance rather than disrupt the song. He’s got as much personality as any instrumentalist around. Teen music with inoffensive, cross-generational appeal — kind of like Shawn Mendes!

loco enamoradoBetter yet is the sierreño bass (not tuba) trio at #11. “Loco Enamorado” represents a new bandwagon leap for Remmy Valenzuela, whom the Blog has admired for his accordion chops and for the lovely rasp in his voice’s upper register. Here he’s playing rhythm guitar on a song about how crazy in love with you he is. Spare a listen for the lead requinto player, who executes a bunch of exciting flourishes that have inspired YouTube tutorials. (Spare also his name, if you know it, because I can’t figure out who the guy is.) I’d say Valenzuela’s voice alone would make any song worth hearing, but his NO VALE LA PENA followup banda single “Mi Amante” disproves that theory.  But in “Loco Enamorado,” his voice and some mean requinto picking sell an entirely decent romantic ballad that has the temerity to move back and forth between two different keys. Pick to Click!


Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 9/11/17”

¡Controversy! ¡Polémica! (Who’s On the Mexican Radio?)

marco-flores-dancing

Controversy! ¡Polémica! NorteñoBlog’s favorite dancer Marco Flores (aka Marco A. Flores) y su Banda Jerez (aka #1 Banda Jerez, or simply La Jerez) are back on the Mexican airwaves with “Los Viejitos” at #17, an amped up waltz that takes an insanely complex approach to both rhythmic subdividing and cultural appropriating.

los-viejitos-400x400The song, you see, plays on the traditional Danza de los Viejitos, danced for centuries by the indigenous Purépecha people in the highlands of Michoacán. Flores lives two states to the north in Zacatecas, but because he bows to Terpsichore in all her forms, he’s opened his new video with a not necessarily accurate re-enactment: five guys in flamboyant stooped-old-man costumes walk a circle, “helped” by members of La Jerez, who keep looking underneath their ponchos but seem otherwise respectful. The slow, trad fiddle music of la Danza stops abruptly, La Jerez kicks into its waltz, Flores flails his limbs, and the stooped old men spring to life, emboldened by this rad new beat. There’s a long, proud history of affectionately tweaking the Olds by replacing their slow rhythm with a new, faster rhythm — recall the Clash’s “Wrong ‘Em Boyo” or Nirvana’s “Territorial Pissings.” Flores seems to be operating on the same impulse here.

¡No tan rápido! says Michoacán’s secretary of indigenous people, Martín García Avilés. (Let’s just note how great it is that a Mexican state has its own secretary of indigenous people.) García Avilés calls the video an insult to native traditions nationwide. Flores and La Jerez are denigrating the Purépecha people and subjecting them to ridicule, he says, and they should take down the video. Flores expresses surprise, countering that he’s trying to rescue and exalt la Danza and bring it to the attention of younger generations. NorteñoBlog, watching a video of an actual Danza, asks warily, “Aren’t the dancing fake old men supposed to be funny? At least a little bit?” Not that I plan to start making video parodies of indigenous dances any time soon. Tumblr would have a collective aneurysm. But I’m curious to know how Flores’s video reads to other people who’ve grown up with la Danza de los Viejitos. Offensive? Funny?

Anyway, as I mentioned, the rhythms in this thing are also stellar — bar by bar, the band divides the basic pulse into either two or three, with Flores subdividing those beats into even smaller and faster bits during the choruses, his accents landing in unexpected places. Limbs flail accordingly. Pick to Click!

Continue reading “¡Controversy! ¡Polémica! (Who’s On the Mexican Radio?)”

¡Nuevo! (starring Joss Favela, Remmy Valenzuela, y más)

tapatias

Songwriter José Alberto Inzunza — aka Joss Favela — has probably made more money than any of the other kids from Código F.A.M.A. Season 2, the TV talent show where he finished seventh in 2004. The winners of Season 2 went on to star in Misión S.O.S., a novela that featured the following novel plot points:

[T]he neighbors of Buenaventura have even darker futures, as they are in danger of losing their homes, their school and much more, because the evil old Severiano plans to tear down the neighborhood and build an enormous shopping mall in its place. To accomplish his plan, Severiano is willing to resort to any means, and will provoke a series of disasters to drive the inhabitants away.

The decrepit old theater is the children’s favorite spot, and this is where they meet a mysterious little man who will change their lives and the fate of Buenaventura forever. Chaneque, a friendly elf, is a magical being who is on an important mission: to save his elf-world from destruction.

Yes yes, Shakespeare plots sound ridiculous when you describe them, too, although I’m not sure El Bardo ever resorted to the ol’ “save the theater before the evil capitalist tears it down” gambit. The point is, Misión only ran for a season, so I’m guessing its actors aren’t earning much in residuals. (If that’s how things work in Méxican TV.) Joss “Seventh Place” Favela, though, became a songwriter who scored massive hits. “Te Hubieras Ido Antes,” Favela’s favorite because it “crossed genres and borders” and therefore made him lots of money, had the good fortune to be sung by the continent’s best voice, Julión Álvarez; “¿Por Qué Terminamos?” landed with Gerardo Ortiz, who also got his start singing on Código F.A.M.A., where he looked exactly the same as he does now — only shorter and more elfen.

joss favelaFavela just released his solo debut album, Hecho a Mano (Sony). He sings with a fine quartet — accordion, tuba, bajo sexto, drums — whose personnel NorteñoBlog is still trying to track down. As you’d expect from this born romantic balladeer, the melodies are strong and soaring. As you might not expect, the band and their leader sometimes have great fun crushing lovelorn sentiments into a fine dust. For example, the standout “No Vuelvas a Llamarme” is a days-of-the-week song like Craig David’s “7 Days,” but it’s also a furious rolling waltz where Favela urges his ex not to call him, because he always has something better to do. (“Believe it or not, I go to Mass on Sundays” — and if you’ve ever tried to use your phone inside a cathedral, you know the reception sucks and the wi-fi’s probably spotty.) The well-rehearsed band has their stop-start game down cold, and the rhythm section’s licks fly nonstop like the popcorn Favela enjoys at those Wednesday double features he claims to never miss. Pick to Click!

Continue reading “¡Nuevo! (starring Joss Favela, Remmy Valenzuela, y más)”

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”

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”

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…”

Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 2/16/16

lafourcade

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”

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