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Pesado flirts with angels, interrogates machismo

presentaciones-pesado-2018

You know how it is. One week you’re delivering a PowerPoint presentation on how young hat acts deconstruct traditional machismo (Coming soon! Watch this space!), then the next week you’re looking up old hat acts on Allmusic.com when you run across an intriguing passage like this:

“[Pesado] struck again quickly with [their 2007 album] Gracias por Tu Amor, a controversial album that challenged physical abuse and the traditional notions of male machismo in Latin America. The album and its title track single were the subject of hot discussion on radio and television talk shows, but they only served to grow sales and airplay.”

gracias por tu amorNorteñoBlog is always hungry for some polémica, but in this case we need to award Jason Ankeny with a well-earned [citation needed], because I can’t find any evidence of the controversy to which he alludes. Furthermore, Pesado’s song “Gracias Por Tu Amor” hardly seems like anything to get worked up over. Its video is a head-scratching depiction of (I think) a poor working-class man dreaming of a better life for his family before he has a heart attack on the job and as a result gets to move into a nice suburban home. (Workers’ comp! God bless unions.) That plot is nowhere to be found in the song’s lyric, which mentions only that the narrator’s amor is an angel from heaven and the living image of love. It’s a midtempo Intocablish thing, pretty but innocuous. I’m having trouble imagining why all the fuss, unless there were some anti-angel haters running their mouths, as anti-angel haters will.

But this does demonstrate something useful: Before today’s Mexillennials were interrogating machismo with their Izod polo shirts and their tears, Pesado was on the case. The Nuevo León quartet/quintet got started in 1993, around the same time as Intocable, and the two bands were soon celebrated as modern updates on trad vaquero accordion slingers. In a 2003 Billboard article, Ramiro Burr lumped them in with Costumbre, Duelo, Iman, and the sensitive mascaraed metalheads in Siggno, writing, “These acts sound as if they would rather whisper in their girlfriends’ ears than raise hell with the guys.” They got big in the years following Selena’s death, when the fairly gender-balanced Tejano style was giving way to more male-dominated norteño as the central sound of regional Mexican music. Burr quoted a San Antonio program director: “There is a large, disenfranchised Tejano community that feels comfortable with these artists that are not really defined as Tejano or traditional norteño. The [new groups] just have a fresh sound. It also helps that many… have lyrics that relate to younger audiences.”

los angeles existenI mention all this because Pesado has a new album, Los Ángeles Existen (Remex). Its title single is apparently meant to convince the haters that, yes, angels from heaven do exist, and, yes, they want to make out with the guys in Pesado. While this is not outside the realm of possibility, Pesado’s songs have trouble transcending pleasantness, let alone our drab earthbound reality. The album’s best single is probably last year’s “No Yo Tengo Remedio,” which has a soaring chorus melody and extremely dialed-in rhythm section, not unlike (you guessed it) Intocable. On “Ojitos Chiquitos,” they even pull the ol’ ‘Cable trick of starting with some rockin’ distorted guitar, before settling into the familiar watered-down cumbia lope. But faithful readers know the Blog is maddeningly ambivalent when it comes to Intocable, while acknowledging they remain the gold standard among this particular strain of norteño — which, right, is adored by throngs of people.

So… RSTG Intocable? Pesado flirts with angels; after some cursory listening, the Blog is flirting with calling Los Ángeles Existen NO VALE LA PENA. Their importance in mediating machismo between hardcore vaqueros and the new jack diaspora, though, won’t be denied. Now we just have to figure out how they could ever be considered controversial…

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Desfile de Hombres… AGAIN (starring Becky G, Aida Cuevas, Siggno, y más)

siggno (1)

The Billboard charts are boring this week, so please excuse the following disjointed rant…

As NorteñoBlog suggested last post, the Grammys’ approach to Mexican music is fairly ridiculous. The Grammys themselves are ridiculous — although if we forget that they’re supposed to be rewarding the best music, and instead see them as the dying public gasps of an increasingly irrelevant trade organization, with Neil Portnow facing down exciting existential dilemmas around every corner like Sarah journeying through the Labyrinth… well, I dunno if that helps.

aida cuevas grammyAND YET. For many musicians, especially the ones who don’t make much money, the Grammys are not ridiculous. Or maybe not merely ridiculous, but also useful. Take ranchera lifer Aida Cuevas, who won the Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano), against a field of men, for her independently released Arrieros Somos – Sesiones Acústicas. Cuevas used her untelevised Grammy moment to flaunt her charro outfit and to urge Mexican women to speak out against sexual harassment. I won’t pretend to enjoy this particular album of hers, but if we accept that both the Grammy awards and the Blog have slightly less aesthetic authority than one of those plastic duck bobbing contests at a carnival, my opinion doesn’t matter. Cuevas is a talented singer who releases her own music and received a podium. She made the most of her moment. The Mexican music world needs to let in more people like her.

So do the airwaves. If you study last week’s Regional Mexican airplay list, below, you’ll see Chiquis Rivera has dropped off, to be replaced by another token woman: Becky G, whose decidedly non-regional ode to older men, “Mayores,” somehow became the 40th most-played song on regional stations. (This week — not shown due to Blog laziness — she moves up to #22.)

Look, I know studying musicians’ chart positions is a ridiculous exercise. The charts rarely have anything to do with aesthetic quality, and observing the cultural hegemony of “Despacito” is only interesting for a day or so. But the charts do reflect who’s getting paid, and a complete absence of women tells you something unflattering about the values of the industry’s gatekeepers. What will it take to get actual norteño singers like Victoria “La Mala” or Laura Denisse onto the radio — or to get Diana Reyes or Los Horoscopos or Alicia Villarreal back on the radio?

While the Blog organizes a call-in campaign, let’s look at whose new songs are getting played. Radio station billboard anchor Gerardo Ortiz and whirling fount of Terpsichore Marco Flores have brought their VALE LA PENA Mexican hits to El Norte. Los Cardenales de Nuevo León and Los Huracanes del Norte head up the geriatric “beloved by Becky G” contingent with some straight-down-the-middle accordion lopes.

siggno que me amasBest of all: Somehow the Blog hasn’t yet noted “Que Me Amas,” a sweet love song from noted eyeliner-and-metal-t-shirt models Siggno. The song starts with “We Will Rock You”-style stadium stomping and distorted guitar, before switching to a midtempo accordion groove that splits the difference between backbeat and polka. You’ve heard Intocable pull this same trick, but Siggno does it better, becuase they keep switching back and forth. The accordion solo and closing drum fusillade are also jarringly good, enough to kick Siggno into coveted Pick to Click status:

And finally, the Blog would be remiss to not point out DJ Kass and his pesky viral hit “Scooby-Doo Pa! Pa!”, according to the Daily Mail the new “Harlem Shake” our nation deserves.
Continue reading “Desfile de Hombres… AGAIN (starring Becky G, Aida Cuevas, Siggno, y más)”

¡Ay Bandito! “Despacito” steals norteño’s chart thunder (Desfile de Éxitos 7/22/17)

despacito

Big news from Billboard is that our official Latin emissary to the pop world, the “Despacito” of Fonsi, Yankee, & Bieber (LLC), has a new notch to add to its chart belt.

siggno despacitoIt was already the first Spanish #1 single since “Macarena.” Now it’s the first non-English song to top the all around Radio Songs chart… ever. Or at least since that particular chart began in 1990. Back in 1996, “Macarena” only reached #6 on the radio. Los Lobos’ cover of “La Bamba” topped radio airplay back in 1987, but that was a different time with different algorithms that only took into account Top 40 radio. “Despacito” is topping both Top 40 and Latin radio, and the song’s coattails are spreading. (Watch for “Despacito”-themed Segway tours to sweep Puerto Rico.) Down at #31 on the Regional Mexican airplay chart, you’ll find the mascaraed-and-tattooed norteño softies Siggno playing their own cover version of “Despacito,” while rocking Metallica and Misfits t-shirts in the video. Guess whose version NorteñoBlog prefers:

Unfortunately, Siggno seems to be the only norteño act lifted by the rising tide of “Despacito” drool. Take a look at that Hot Latin chart below. Normally you’d see a couple norteño or banda songs in the top 10; the top 25 often contains ten to twelve regional Mexican acts. Now the top 16 songs are all reggaeton, bachata, or Shakira, a genre unto herself, with the first Mexican acts only sneaking in from #17-21. (Some comfort: there are 12 more of our guys — and they’re all guys — in the bottom 25.)

Billboard notes that Fonsi’s “Despacito” is not only swamping both Top 40 and Latin airplay, it’s selling and streaming the pants off every other Spanish-language song you care to name. This works out well for other, similar sounding songs. When you play “Despacito” on YouTube, the video channel helpfully chases it with another variation on “Despacito”‘s dembow rhythm — for instance, CNCO’s “Reggaeton Lento,” Maluma’s “Felices los 4,” or Shakira’s “Chantaje,” in whose video Shakira goes HAM by walking a pig through a convenience store. All those ancillary streams give their songs a chart boost. “Despacito” is never followed by Christian Nodal‘s gorgeous mariachi-pop “Adios Amor,” which hung out in the Hot Latin top 10 for the first half of the year, or any other regional Mexican song. This is one way the club sound reinforces itself.

ulices-chaidez-albumAlso worth noting in the above-linked article: halfway through 2017, there’s only one regional Mexican album in the cumulative Latin top 10, and it comes not from perennial album seller Gerardo Ortiz, whose very good Comeré Callado Vol. 1 seems to be stiffing. Rather, this year’s biggest Mexican album is the (not quite as good) 2016 album from teen sierreño sensations Ulices Chaidez y Sus Plebes. Under Billboard‘s current album accounting methods, Chaidez’s “album sales” have risen thanks to online streams of his hit ballad “Te Regalo,” which peaked at #12 and charted for half a year.

hoy mas fuerteOrtiz could use his own big single to boost his Equivalent Album Units, but right now his lame sierreño pop “Para Que Lastimarme” is falling from a #15 peak. It’s looking more like Ortiz’s 2015 album Hoy Más Fuerte was, in fact, his New Jersey: “a huge event album that ultimately feels a bit hollow and signals a career decline” (at least in commercial terms). This is something NorteñoBlog totally called; although in fairness, if it proves untrue, I probably won’t retract it. I’ll be sure to consult my journalistic ethics team.

In short, regional Mexican music seems to be going through some summer doldrums, a period of relative unpopularity compared to other Spanish-language music. Its central star, Ortiz, is using a hot sound, sierreño, but his new music is struggling to catch on. Nodal, the singer of the format’s biggest 2017 hit, has yet to release an album. The popularity of “Despacito” is benefitting other songs with more club-oriented electro rhythms. And I haven’t even mentioned that our biggest norteño song, Calibre 50‘s “Las Ultras” (#17 Hot Latin, #1 airplay), is a beer jingle. For light beer. Plenty of blame to go around.

recordandoOne bright spot comes from Ortiz and his friends/labelmates Lenin Ramirez and Jesus Chairez: down at #26 on the airplay chart we find the three of them singing Chariez’s corrido “Recordando a Manuel.” It’s a spritely guitar-and-banda memorial to the late narco José Manuel Torres Félix, who was killed in 2012. Some sympathy for the devil, please — according to the song, he was a simple country man who only turned to a life of crime when mobsters killed his kids, at which point “el demonio” got him. Regardless of real-life circumstances, the song is stunning. I prefer Ortiz’s small band version on Comeré Callado, which features some jaw-dropping accordion and tuba interplay, but on the single you can enjoy three different guys harmonizing in honor of a reputed psychopath. And the guitar still sounds great! Pick to Click:

Continue reading “¡Ay Bandito! “Despacito” steals norteño’s chart thunder (Desfile de Éxitos 7/22/17)”

Alta Consigna Takes Charge (Desfile de Éxitos 1/21/17)

alta-consigna

Since NorteñoBlog last checked out Billboard‘s charts four weeks ago, the Hot Latin chart remains depressingly stagnant, with only six new songs. Four of the songs in the Top 10 have been there over half a year. Worse, the  Mexican songs in the Top 25 all sound like stagnant pools of overripe romance, unless you get real zen about it; then they become meditative pools whose stillness reflects back to us our most private yearnings.

alta-consignaThat includes the song at #20, “Culpable Tu,” by the young guitar/bass/tuba quintet Alta Consigna. Released back in July, it does not appear on their new album No Te Pide Mucho (Rancho Humilde), which shares a pacing strategy with Neil Young’s 1979 classic Rust Never Sleeps: lull listeners to sleep during the first half, then wake ’em up by rocking out more ferociously than any of your peers. This comparison is not exact; the first half of Rust Never Sleeps is better than the first half of No Te Pide Mucho, but in Alta Consigna’s defense, Neil Young famously did not record a world-historical bachata-with-tuba cover of “Propuesta Indecente.” Few albums of 1979 did. This is something the critical histories of the period won’t tell you.

NorteñoBlog has dug Alta Consigna before. Back in 2015 they got a “ft.” credit on Grupo El Reto‘s “La Parranda Va Empezar,” as ferocious a cavalcade of strumming and triple tonguing as you could hope for. At the band’s best — i.e., a new re-recording of its 2015 tune “Sinaloense Es El Joven” — it capitalizes on having two bass instruments by making them do completely opposite, equally rad things. Dani Vida fires a wild variety of machine gun and other noises from his tuba, while bassist Esteban González achieves a truly menacing tone. “Culpable” might be the token romantic ballad that gets people’s attention, but the back half of Mucho is where the Picks to Click reside. The album is VALE LA PENA, at least if you play it on shuffle.

Continue reading “Alta Consigna Takes Charge (Desfile de Éxitos 1/21/17)”

Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 8/26/16

beto zapata

Much has changed on the Mexican airwaves since NorteñoBlog last tuned in over a month ago. The former #1 song, a heartbroken sob story of romantic grief and brassy bereftitude by Arrolladora, has given way to a different heartbroken sob story of romantic grief and brassy bereftitude, this time by Banda MS. And everyone knows that Arrolladora ballads are ace slow jams with rhythm sections full of coiled tension, while MS ballads drip like the discharge from festering sores. It’s all there in the music!

dos monedasFurther down, two Remex Records acts have replaced themselves on the radio with remakes. The more notable is ace flarer-of-nostrils Edwin Luna and his banda of second fiddlers, La Trakalosa. Given our troubled and uncertain times on both sides of the Great Wall of Trump, NorteñoBlog finds comfort in watching Luna grimace his way through another extravagant video meant to highlight his perennially nascent acting chops. (He acts in both color and black and white!) No hay nada nuevo bajo el sol. “Dos Monedas” was previously a hit for Ramón Ayala, and it was written by Jesse Armenta — You know him! He wrote some political barnburners for Los Tigres, including “El Circo,” thus winning himself a chapter in the book Narcocorrido — and it’s another heartbroken sob story.

Only this sob story is not at all romantic; it’s closer to “The Christmas Shoes” or some shit. The narrator is an abusive drunk. One cold and wintry night he sends his son out to beg for money to support the family booze fund. The next morning he opens the door to find sonny boy dead, both frozen and starved, holding in his small frozen starved hands the “dos monedas” of the title. All our children should be so dedicated! The narrator, no fool, sees a moral in this story, as does Edwin Luna, whose unconvincing portrayal of the drunk ends by approximating sadness. But Luna over-emotes his songs like nobody else, a good thing, and the arrangement makes this the cheeriest tune about filicide since “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” ¡VALE LA PENA! Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 8/26/16”

Smells like Remex Records: Trakalosa, Atraktiva, Zancudito, Mi Padrino (yeah)

la atraktiva

It’s been a while since NorteñoBlog caught up with Remex Records, the YouTube telenovela factory that fronts as a powerhouse indie label. Run by brothers Domingo and Germán Chávez, the sons of the late DISA Records founder don Domingo Chávez, Remex recently signed a deal with the indie distributor Select-O-Hits — meaning, I guess, that they intend to stay independent for a while longer. (The younger Domingo has gone on record supporting Mexico’s corrido bans — Remex acts sometimes sing corridos, but never the bloodthirsty kind.)

Their distance from the majors doesn’t seem to have hurt them. Remex bands are all over the radio and their YouTube counts sometimes resemble the budgets for Avengers movies. The one place Remex bands tend to go missing is the award show circuit, which behind all the pyrotechnics and back slapping remains a shadowy cabal of major label machinations. Although flagship banda La Trakalosa de Monterrey has shown up at the Premios de la Radio, Remex bands have rarely if ever played the Latin Grammys, probably because it would cost the label $40-to-$100,000 to send one of their acts to perform. But who cares about some dumb award when, like Joe-C, you’re down with the devil?

I refer of course to “Mi Padrino El Diablo,” Trakalosa’s excellent tale of Faustian woe. In the two years since the 18 members of Trakalosa collectively shook the hand of el diablo in song — I like to imagine a post-fútbol receiving line with murmurs of “buen juego” and a Gatorade cooler full of goat blood — they’ve grown into YouTube marvels, with frontman Edwin Luna evidently prepping for a solo career or a run at movie stardom. In his band’s melodramatic videos, now credited to “Edwin Luna y La Trakalosa” (wham!), he flares his nostrils like Kristen Stewart used to bite her lip. And she’s a big star now, so…

trakalosaTrakalosa’s new album Así Cantaba Mi Padre appears to be a tribute to Luna’s late father Miguel Luna, “El Gorrión” of the duo El Palomo y El Gorrión. It’s full of classics from the Great Mexican Songbook, including first single “En Toda La Chapa,” featuring Luna’s uncle Cirilo. (You guessed it: he’s “El Palomo.”) Like most Trakalosa singles, “En Toda” is charting in Mexico, partly because it sounds thoroughly modern — the recording captures both the density of the brass and the lightness of their step, not to mention Luna’s patented oversinging — and partly because the audience for classic norteño has never gone away, even with the rise of the modern banda pop industry. (The past is never dead, etc.) Continue reading “Smells like Remex Records: Trakalosa, Atraktiva, Zancudito, Mi Padrino (yeah)”

¡Nuevo!

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This week’s new or newish releases are motley and middling, sort of like the white elephant prize table at the office Christmas party.

Alfredo Olivas – El Privilegio (Sahuaro/Sony)
When we encountered Alfredito last week, we were hearing his song “Con La Novedad” covered by Banda Rancho Viejo. It’s possible this album won’t actually be released until January, per Amazon, but it’s also possible the whole thing’s currently up on Youtube, what with the Sony corporation’s attentions somewhat diverted these days. Olivas is a distinctive and “ito”-faced corridista and romantic who works with both a banda and a small group. He had a couple tracks on Hyphy’s El Corrido VIP comp.

Siggno – Zodiacal (Martzcom/Freddie)
and
Salido – “Ya No Eres La Misma” (Martzcom/Freddie)
Intocablish lopers.

Los Palominos – Strait Tejano (Urbana)
Now here’s something you don’t see every day: a Tejano band releasing an album of George Strait covers. Interesting, eh? In theory, at least. From what I’ve heard, these songs are less interesting than Strait’s own cover of José Alfredo Jiménez, “El Rey,” which may deserve its own thesis.

La Trakalosa de Monterrey – “Broche De Oro” (Remex)
A fairly nothing ballad with some nice close harmonies. Their padrino el diablo made them do it.

Chavela Vargas – Que Te Vaya Bonito (Caribe reissue)
Easily the most interesting person on this list, Vargas was a highly dramatic singer of ranchera torch songs, a movie actor, and a lesbian who came out late in life. Here’s a thesis to read! Like “El Rey,” this collection’s title song was written by José Alfredo Jiménez.

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