Voy a Explotar Soundtrack Release - Coming Up

If everything goes well, in a few hours we will be releasing the soundtrack for Voy a Explotar. It's the third film of Gerardo Naranjo and the latest from Canana, the film production company of Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna. It's been my special project for the last two weeks, watching the movie a dozen times, listening to my whole mp3 library and finding the emotional audiovisual tissue that music and film share, lots of phone calls, chats and emails to get it done on time for the film's tentative release date (supposedly this Friday in Mexico), but the distribution of the film has been extended, so a new date will be announced. Anyway, the soundtrack-compilation, or as I like to call it, my reinterpretation of the movie, through songs, is ready. Expect more details and of course a tracklist in the actual release. Here is the trailer, enjoy.

"El Tigeraso" - Maluca (Latest Mad Decent addition)

A friend I got from the Mad Decent family wanted to slap me for not knowing who Maluca was, their latest acquisition, and boy is he right, she is the bomb. Remezcla raved her performance at SXSW and she’s quickly getting the attention (unlike the awesome but still undiscovered Plastic Caramelo). Not only is she the freshest upcoming sensation, her funky and quirky personality will make any Latino out there proud. Her Dominican Republic roots are felt through her first official single “El Tigeraso” (produced by Diplo). The music is up there, it’s like Santogold with sexier vibes and very tropical, bring that merengue back! makes us very excited, and who knows, along with the upcoming Toy Selectah production, these two might just pull upfront for the reggaeton>neo-cumbia shift we are all expecting to occur in the upcoming months. Another tune I like way too much to not be inducted into our cheap and uncreative videos we got on YouTube.


Manos de Topo, Carlos-Andrew Chat Transcript

Like I mentioned in my review, Manos de Topo is a challenge, actually the most conflicting record I've had to review thus far for this blog. I chat A LOT with my collaborators, seriously the coolest guys to have around, Jean-Stephane Beriot and Andrew Casillas, and this is a transcript from a gmail chat session we had on Wednesday, Andrew and I discussing El Primero Era Mejor, the latest inclusion to the Best New Music corner.

Carlos: oh my god... i think i'm giving Manos de Topo 4 starszzzz, I don't wanna do it?
Andrew: as long as it isn't fucking 5!!!!.. you know what?
Carlos: you're like my therapist...
Andrew: I'm thinking, if I hate it, I'll write a counterpoint and we'll put it a few days later, that's if I HATE it though
Carlos: oh my.. it's good! … you won't hate it
Andrew: solid...I'll give it a run-through
Carlos: ahhhh... seriously... i don't think i have ever been so conflicted, but I’m playing it a LOT
Andrew: then you probably really like it
Carlos: or I’m going nuts..
Andrew: give what you wanna give...but I swear to God...
Andrew: should I be laughing at this?
Carlos: um... why? , sounds perfectly normal (lol) haha
Andrew: the first song sounds a bit like that Chicha Libre album, until he starts singing
Carlos: the music is GRRREEAAAT
Andrew: the music sounds cool at first
Carlos: and when his voice shows up
Andrew: spaghetti western keyboards!
Carlos: it's like... shit... what happened

Andrew: ummm... this is, a bit grating
Carlos: oh i like that word
Andrew: it's mainly the production...why are they putting his vocals so much up front? it's taking away completely from the music, which is very Los Campesinos! like, but doesn't seem to have any highs or lows (yet, I'm only on track 3)
Carlos: it's like very theatrical, dramatic, kinda singular, oh my … it’s a hard one!
Andrew: the singing is theatrical; I wouldn't say the same about the music
Carlos: it's like a little cute monster
Andrew: the music is DIY twee
Carlos: I mean.. an ugly monster... but with charm lol

Andrew: see, I'm trying to figure out what you mean by "charm", it's cute in spots, yes, but not really "charming"
Carlos: I think so, I mean, overall, the songs are all about deceptions, heartbroken instances etc., it’s like the guy is drunk or somethin’
Andrew: I can tell in the lyrics (which I don't like to really focus on, personal critical thing) that it's about "broken hearts," but the music and the singing don't really equate for me. "Que me pasa doctor?" seems to be the most congruent so far. It has actually SECTIONS to it
Carlos: I love that one, “Logico que salga mal” is the single, I’m crazy, but reminds me of Café Tacvba.
Andrew: OMGGGGGGG, that single better be fucking awesome, man, this is NOT looking good.
Carlos: haha, I’m thinking it will range somewhere among 77 to 81, for me, nothing less
Andrew: nothing LESS than 77?
Andrew: OK, last song coming up... you’re kinda right about the Café Tacvba reference at the end… but Café Tacuba doesn’t really SOUND like that musically
Carlos: I know, I know, but still you get the vibe
Andrew: this is by far the best song though
Carlos: in part because of the 'backup' vocals...I still wish he wasn’t so overdramatic vocally

Andrew: and finished, I give it a 41
Carlos: U suck
Andrew: dude, even musically it wasn't entirely stimulating, not much variation in tempo, instrumentation was kinda pedestrian, I actually got a bit tired towards the end
Carlos: I’m sure, I did too… at first
Andrew: I'll definitely give it another spin
Carlos: the chat transcript is like better than your counterpart review idea ... haha
Andrew: hell, post that then, it might work, put dual grades, yours can be “official”
Carlos: I might, but heck, I’m almost done with my review
Andrew: wimp, haha, post the transcript as the “counterpoint” then
Carlos: yeah... 'cause I’m sure other people will feel like you... I'm SURE
Andrew: I have no fucking doubt
Carlos: I mean... I’ve exposed my readers to something like Hidrogenesse and Joe Crepusculo... but this is colossal!
Andrew: colossal suck, more like it. AND THAT'S HOW WE END THE TRANSCRIPT
Carlos: No, I'll end it. Bitch

El Primero Era Mejor, Manos de Topo

Sones, Spain ****
Rating: 82
By Carlos Reyes

Call it over dramatization, a painful throat soaring or a pretentious attention-gather tool, but Miguel Angel Blanca, the vocalist of Manos de Topo, brings the best and the worst of an approach to achieve originality. Definitely a hate it or love it band; it’s erratic, bizarre, dramatic, unique and even pointless, when do these harsh defining terms become an artistic virtue? Manos de Topo is quite a challenge, in the one hand its vocalization puts up a big concrete wall that leaves very few space to sneak in for a further examination of the lyrics and instrumentation, but it also allows the listener to enter one of the most bizarre places Iberoamerican music has taken us, and that by itself is merit of recognition. The band is clearly setting up a musical parade, working with stages and costumes their interpretation of an exaggerated universe where everything breaks apart tragically and love is not something to pursue but to cry for. Here is the catch, before turning away from the initial unattractive impression, acclimate to what is offered, it’s not a matter of accepting it but tolerating it until its true beauty pops up. As the lyrics start building up a genuine space of phrases, the instrumentation hugs and embraces our vocalist in the best possible way, as if the lyrics and music were two protective parents catching up to the peculiar personality one of their many kids happened to develop. In the title El Primer Era Mejor, they make fun of themselves, and it’s a recurrent tool throughout the album, it’s their way to try to make sense of a thing called deception and let’s be frank, don’t deceptive drunk people sound like this when they’re intoxicated? I don’t think the overall musical proposal is as surreal as they think it is, but it sure sounds baroque on tracks like “Ejercito Ruso” and “Vacaciones a Corea del Norte.” The musical texture in “Libros de Autoayuda” sustains its narrative, feels monstrously cute, just as “El Pollo Frito” is sympathetic, “the fried chicken wanted to learn how to fly.” While “Ahora te sientes mejor verdad” is all about disgust and discomfort, and “Ciencias Exactas” is straightly raw and questions what the precise sign of affection is, and how much one is willing to sacrifice for that affection to take the next step, “a bear’s hug can kill another bear.” The first single “Logico que salga mal” is a loud mesmerizing piece, an epic culmination that gets everything right, works as a satire and stamps the overall feeling of these songs.  

Note: Wait for another post for Manos de Topo very shortly.   

The face of a boy hearing for the first time

“This photo was taken by photographer Jack Bradley and depicts the exact moment this boy, Harold Whittles, hears for the very first time ever. The doctor treating him has just placed an earpiece in his left ear. Date unknown.

I know this is not the typical fonograma post you’re used to read, but I’m amazed and touched by this picture, the kind of great visual impact that invites for reflection and actually, it’s totally linked to this blog. Keep the sound, keep the silence, know how to embrace them and accommodate them, build a relationship and live through it, you’ll make and process great music by mastering them both. 

Girl is Tough.

The content of this blog has been too girly lately, but it’s not our fault, so keep the good music coming. Here is a quick one for you, download and see where this hot dance tune takes you to. I’m quite young, so it takes me to the Hollywood chick-flicks (shame), you know, specifically to the usual scene of the girl going shopping with her girlfriends, or even better, a dramatic makeover. Anyway, don't watch those films, unless you like your cliche to come with a morality message. Back to the music, Girl is Tough is an energetic duo from Sonora, Mexico (we don’t get many from this state), I’m keeping an eye on this two, they seem like the kind of individuals that light up a place in a second. Enjoy their song “Touch and Play”, this is actually a remix of it, by French DJ Monsieur Sept. I like the track so much, I even uploaded it on YouTube, the first update in months.

♫♫♫ "Touch and Play" (Monsieur Sept Remix) (zshare)
or here (hotlinkfiles)

Pilar Diaz, Pilar Diaz

Independiente, Chile ***1/2
Rating: 79
By Jean-Stephane Beriot

As if being a legit independent artist wasn’t enough, Pilar Diaz’s first solo album was released in the worst time of the year, during the winter when very few people like to spend money on music, and the critics are too busy building up their top 10 charts; the commentary on the album is almost inexistent, and it’s a shame considering what a pleasant album it turns out to be. With that said, I think this album should be reconsidered for an extended release, or like our main editor mentioned in his Adrianigual post, it should leak properly, hey, it’s another very useful tool that even record labels know about but hate to recognize. Los Abandoned were always seen as the one U.S. Latino band that was able to breathe the culture of a very Hispanic California, and who doesn’t recognize their anthem “Van Nuys (Es very nice)” as a key song for Latin alternative? Her self-titled album is shorter than your actual LP, but there is plenty of material here to suggest Pilar’s loner walk will arrive with success. “Piñata” and its video is like a very mean shout that once broken apart, is more like a defensive stance. The sound renounce of this song is very epic, making it one of the best singles of the year without a doubt; it’s the magic of orchestration resizing itself to fit perfectly among these tracks. “llegal en Estyle” is insanely humoristic, touches a folk for a while and the rise of the vocalization comes at the right place, rasping as any sympathetic socially-conscious song should. The album stands somewhere in between the great works of Ceci Bastida and Ely Guerra, that should be to rush to get her record. “Novia de Soldado” and “Perdido” are nice soft songs circulating around hope and deep fears. “Tu y yo” although well instrumented, is overtaken an excess of vocal energy, the only truly flaw here. There’s a lack of roundness and extra skin here and there, but what a gratifying album overall, one that deserves a lot more prints out there.

♫♫♫ "Piñata"
buy it @ merch squad

Vetusta Morla, Lori Meyers and Los Punsetes

The blog is back to my hands everyone! , thanks Andrew for the great SXSW coverage, to the artists for welcoming our approach to interview them etc. You would assume I would have a lot of stuff ready for you, but I took a break from this thing, and indeed, I missed it. During spring break I got a handful of CDs from Spain, thanks to all the labels for sending them, seriously, beautiful packaging and the music is exciting to say the least. So expect a lot of Spaniard acts getting reviews/posts in the upcoming days.

While Russian Red and Joe Crepusculo were the most successful breakthroughs in Spain's pop last year, let me introduce you to the three rock acts everyone had their eyes on (although for me, the best rock album from Spain is still Margarita's Parque Magico). I'm in love with the Morla's front single "Un dia en el mundo", I don't know, I can't stop singing it and I'm sure you won't either. There's four videos included in the player, first a live-action take of Vetusta a la blogotheque, and if you click on next, it will take you to the album's version and official video. Also find Lori Meyers's "Alta Fidelidad" and Los Punsetes's latest video "Fondo de Armario."

SXSW Entry #10 – Adios Austin! (Hello Austin!)

Well my good looking readers, that’s it for my coverage of SXSW 2009. I want to thank Carlos and Jean-Stephane for allowing me to take over this site for the past few days (Writer’s Note: Hey y’all – you’re WELCOME for the vacation by the way :p). I also want to thank all the artists, their bands, and their managers who treated me with the utmost respect all in the name of a blog.

As for me, I’m going to stay behind in Austin because I’ve got no place else to go (also, all of my stuff is here). I’ll try to pop in with a review, or witty piece every now and then, and I hope that you’ll welcome me with open arms as you have during the past week.

And as a public service to you all, here are some bands that I saw this week who you are to avoid at ALL costs: Razorlight (booorrrring), Nite Jewel (pompous), Crystal Stilts (who the hell wants to see Jim Morrison fronting Joy Division??), Wavves (white noise overdose), Asher Roth (just plain suck-itude).

Anyway, thanks for everything, I bought you an ice cream sandwich, but as you can see, I already ate it—so I owe you one. If you see me on the street, come say “Hi,” and we’ll walk to the taqueria and we’ll split a fresas con crema. Hasta luego!

SXSW Entry #9 – Best in Ingles

Originally, my duty for providing Club Fonograma with SXSW coverage was to see as many high-profile Latin music acts as possible per night. But I appreciate music of all kinds (except for that new age/Enya stuff…ew), so I caught quite a number of non-Spanish speaking bands. Carlos encouraged me to write about them. So, here were my favorite five non-Latin shows:

St. Vincent: Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, is Texas born and bred, but her music is indebted to no place in particular. Her music is equally refined as it is cathartic, her singing voice is more than lovely, and she can shred with the best of them, regardless of gender. Her SXSW shows were among the most anticipated as her new album Actor begins to build buzz on the interwebz. Opening her show with the lead track off of the new record, “The Strangers” is a tempered piece of orchestral art-rock, with a hypnotic refrain of “Paint a black hole blacker” that burrows into your head only to be erased by St. Vincent powerful guitar soloing. The rest of the show was merely a preview of the new record, with isolated tracks from the excellent debut, Marry Me. Of the new tracks, “Marrow” seemed to have the most potential, but we’ll just to have hear the record to find out for sure.

Nellie McKay: In order to see Nellie McKay, I had to go to church for the first time in about four years. Upon entering I tried making a joke about whether it was sacrilegious to drink booze inside of a church, then I was politely informed that beer and wine could be purchased for $3 during the show. So yeah. Anyway, Nellie McKay has always been the type of artist who can provoke instant and intense reactions: Depending on your politics/love of musical theater, you’ll either fall in love with her or want to throw a heavy book at her. However, on this particular night, the preaching was toned completely down (except for one interesting comment on being so vegan that she can’t bring herself to destroy the moth’s nest that’s terrorizing her home) and Nellie treated the audience to a good old-fashioned show of retro piano pop. The show was light on the hits (so no “Dog Song” or “Long and Lazy River”), but heavy on the enthusiasm, and the crowd reacted favorably to virtually everything, particularly Nellie’s admittedly half-assed cover/improv routine version of Patsy Cline’s “Walking After Midnight.”

The Knux: The New Orleans rap duo turned Los Angeles transplants, the Knux made one of my top ten favorite records of 2008, so needless to say I was pretty excited to see them this week—and they didn’t disappoint. With a set consisted entirely of tracks off of Remind Me in 3 Days, the Knux commanded the crowd unlike any other during SXSW. In the span of thirty minutes, they had hundreds of people bobbing their heads, head banging, waving their hands, waving their middle fingers, and even got the crowd (including yours truly) to engage in their “Put It In the Air” dance. I’d show you a picture of me doing the dance, but the internet already has enough pictures of guys doing stupid dances, thank you very much.

The Chap: British indie rock band signed by Anticon. They’re like Flight of the Conchords, except you can’t quite be sure if their jokes are supposed to be funny. That being said, they were hilarious. Blighty!

Janelle Monae: Seemingly as insane as she is inspired, Janelle Monae is an OutKast-affliated R&B songstress whose finally beginning to make inroads on her own. Stepping out to a (purposely) smoke-filled stage after a cold voiceover sets up the story (Janelle is “Cindy Mayweather” an android who has fallen into forbidden love with a human, and who is being hunted by the droid control), Janelle opened the show the “Hey Ya!”-meets-Blade Runner pop magnet “Violet Stars/Happy Hunting!!,” one of the most infectious (and best) singles of this entire decade. Segueing directly into “Many Moons,” the crowd was unsure whether they were supposed to bang their heads or A-town stomp, but that didn’t seem to impede their fun. Janelle slowed things down afterwards with a jazzy cover of Nat King Cole’s “Smile,” before turning up the intensity with her final few songs, culminating in her stage-diving and riding the crowd all the way to the back of the venue, before racing all the way back upstage only to engage in James Brown-style theatrical fainting and flopping. This was the last show that I saw all weekend, and I couldn’t imagine a better ending. Bra-vo.

SXSW Entry #8 - Hello Seahorse!: LA ENTREVISTA

Disclaimer: I was able to speak with all the members of Hello Seahorse! individually in some capacity after their day show, but the interview consists of just me and lead singer Lo Blondo. Mainly because the interview was conducted outside where there was a lot of noise, and I have a digital voice recorder that could pick up the sound of a moth farting. Thanks to Hello Seahorse! and their management for making this all so easy, and if they’re reading this, I hope you enjoyed the tacos. So, yeah…enjoy!

Andrew: Lazy question, but it’s an easy ice-breaker, what are you listening to right now?
Lo Blondo: Um, I’m actually listening to the Copeland’s newest album. I also like opera a lot, because I take opera singing classes. I try to catch up with what the band’s I like from anywhere in the world are doing, and if not I also like listening to the old stuff that I like, for example, Mew’s first album. The other band members, Oro de Neta and Bon, really like hip-hop, but I think we all really like the same things.

Andrew: (Tell me about the band’s formation and your influences.)
Lo Blondo: Actually, the band started not because we knew each other. I was singing with a choir and just got really tired of it. Then one day, on MySpace, I saw an ad for a band that needed a female vocalist, so I didn’t know who those people were, and it turned out to be Oro de Neta. I don’t know why I did it, haha, cause it’s kind of dangerous meeting someone from the internet, but it’s funny because when we met, we quickly saw that we had common tastes in music, and I think everything helps us in our creation, everything is an influence, and it helps that we all listen to that same things.

Andrew: Saying that the band started kinda whole and then you came on board, when you listen to …And the Jellyfish Parade, it sounds almost twee, and the songs are not as diverse. As time has gone on, the records have incorporated more styles and sounds, and “bigger” sounding, how do y’all decide what direction the band is going to take with each record? Is it a group effort or does one person generally take the initiative and you all work with it?
Lo Blondo: When we compose songs, we actually do it together, but that started only two years ago, because when the band first started four years ago Oro de Neta already had all these songs, so the rest of us had to get into the songs that he had already. It was difficult, but that’s the reason for the sound. We didn’t think the band would go anywhere, I mean, it was just a project, then as time went on and we really started to feel that the band had something, we started to compose all together.

Andrew: “Won’t Say Anything” seemed to come out of nowhere. When you finished that song, and made the video for it, did you think that this song would make it out of Mexico and have a following in other countries?
Lo Blondo: Maybe we had kind of an idea, because it was in English. That’s what made us think that maybe it could get out of Mexico. But we really didn’t move it because Hoy a Las Ocho didn’t come out physically in Mexico, we just gave it away online for free. Then came Magic Marker, through MySpace, who told us that they liked our music and wanted to release it in the States, so we agreed and I don’t know, maybe they saw something that we didn’t see.

Andrew: Going back to “Won’t Say Anything” being in English, there are a lot of people uncomfortable with Mexican bands singing in English, what do you have to say when people make a fuss at you about that?
Lo Blondo: I have two things to say: First thing is that, this isn’t new. For example, I like Phoenix, which is a French pop/rock band, who sings in English, and no one has a problem with it. I think that when people in Mexico listen to a song that is in English, they think that “oh, they want to copy American bands,” and I don’t think we want to just copy. Second, I was born in the States, I had American culture in my house, and I sometimes like to write in English, that’s my personal story. But I know a lot of other bands from Mexico who write in English, who do it because it’s a language that fits into music; Spanish is very difficult to write songs in.

Andrew: Things have changed dramatically for the band in the past year. Do you see yourselves as kind of ambassadors for Mexican indie rock music?
Lo Blondo: Um, maybe not exactly. I mean, I don’t think we’re ambassadors of anything, I think we just got lucky, and struck at the right moment.
Andrew: So you don’t see yourself as one day being on the level of a Café Tacuba or Julieta Venegas who have relative success in the States, and faces for Latin rock music? Do you not feel comfortable in that role?
Lo Blondo: We really just want to get anywhere we can, and if one day we come to some place where we get 1,000 or 10,000 people to our shows here, it’d be great. The thing is that Café Tacuba has been around for so many years and it takes time. Obviously the internet helps to be spread faster, but I don’t know, I think we just want to keep playing together and that’s the important thing. And if one day we play for 15 people (gestures to the tent), and the next day we play for 1,000, it’s OK, it just feels good to express yourself, haha.

SXSW Entry #7 – Hello Seahorse! Day Party

The final day of SXSW saw the Texas heat come out in full force as the Pabst Blue Ribbon flowed like vino. Luckily, I was able to find a tent to rest under on Guadalupe street (Writer’s Note: In Austin, it’s pronounced Guad-a-LOOP…sigh, gringos), and who happened to be there was none other than everyone’s favorite Mexican indie rock band Hello Seahorse!

As I arrived to the Waterloo Cycle shop day party, there were literally about 10 people hanging around what was essentially a tiny parking lot with a makeshift tent over it. But the small size of the initial crowd didn’t deter the band, as they delivered a pretty solid set in the least favorable conditions. Playing a career-spanning setlist that touched on every one of their releases, Lo Blondo and the boys started out a bit slow, jarred perhaps by the heat and the crowd’s initial lack of energy. Things changed as Lo Blondo informed the crowd that they would now be performing a song in English, which led to, what else, “Won’t Say Anything.” The band played the first half of the song as a slow-jam, which piqued the interest of the faithful but few others; then, as the song reached the bridge, it began to speed up gradually and gradually before it developed one hell of a dance rhythm that began to attract quite a crowd (all this without a bassline, too!).

As more and more people began to assemble, the band delivered their best numbers. “Cassette” was transformed from a twee number with a synth arrangement to a biting little slice of power-pop, with the band busting out a little bit of “Rapper’s Delight” during the bridge! (Writer’s Note: How is Lo Blondo’s rapping by the way? Remember Julieta Venegas’ rap in her live versions of “Eres Para Mí”? Yeah, it was kinda like that. But Lo Blondo looked much cuter in trying) This was followed up by the most epic version of “Bestia” that you could imagine Hello Seahorse! playing in a parking lot. By the end of the set, the band had found their touch, and had also found quite a crowd, which had quadrupled in size in the span of a half-hour. I’d say, along with all the free PBR, it was one hell of an afternoon.

SXSW Entry #6 – Ceci Bastida: LA ENTREVISTA

Disclaimer: I want to thank Ceci and her people for showing me the utmost hospitality all throughout the festival. They were very gracious, and returned my text messages with a quick turnaround. Trust me, I’ve been interviewing pop acts for over 6 years now, and you don’t know how many publicists refuse to return your calls. Well, here’s the interview, enjoy!

Andrew: What are you currently listening to, besides 808’s and Heartbreak of course?
Ceci: Haha. I’ve been listening to Animal Collective lately, Micachu . . . Lykke Li, K’Naan, uh, OK I’ll get back to you.

(short conversation about how crazy Lykke Li is in real-life)

Andrew: You formed Tijuana No! at a young age, and they were successfully relatively quick, what was it like to be in such an important band at a relatively young age?
Ceci: I think I was just intrigued by the whole thing, I was very young and it was my first band, when you’re young you don’t really think about what you’re doing, even if it doesn’t make sense. It was a lot of fun, and I learned a lot from them, not just as a musician, but being in a band, and the relationships between band members and touring, and being involved in some different things, like benefit shows. It formed a big part of musical brain, and it was great.

Andrew: So in regards to some of the band’s seminal works, like “Pobre de Ti,” or “La Esquina del Mundo,” do people still request those songs?
Ceci: Not when I’m doing shows live, though sometimes people request “Spanish Bombs,” but I’ve been playing a lot in the U.S., and that happens more in Mexico, where I lately haven’t played as much, and it’s also been a lot of years since Tijuana No!, the people who go to shows are usually younger now, and they probably don’t know those songs.
Andrew: I do, and I’m 23.
Ceci: Yeah but you’re different, haha…
Andrew: (blushes)

Andrew: After that, you joined Julieta Venegas’ band right after she had finished recording Bueninvento. So you were the singer in an alterna-rock band, then you join your friend’s band, who’s also an alterna-rock singer right in the middle of what I like to call her “batshit crazy” period (Writer’s Note: I mean “batshit crazy” in the BEST WAY POSSIBLE), but not long after you join the band, she becomes a pop singer, were you surprised by that?
Ceci: I was pretty surprised. I mean, I never thought of her as “rock” necessarily. It started out in a casual way, like “Hey, my keyboard player doesn’t have a visa, and we have shows in LA, do you wanna do it?,” so I did, and it was so much fun, cause I was able to hang out with my friend again. I didn’t really think about it, it just kinda happened. I learned a lot from that period, and when she did , her big pop album, she would e-mail each other all the time, and she would tell me “I’m doing these songs, and they sound kinda poppy,” a little worried, and I would say “Are you happy?,” and she’d say “Yeah,” and she was then OK. It was a little shocking when we first toured it, and it was like “The arrangements are so different!,” or, “There are so many harmonies!,” but it’s hard for me to think about it and be objective, I just supported her and let her know “I’m behind you.”

Andrew: You were in one band, that was a very communal effort, then you joined your friend’s band, and now, all of these years later, it’s your band, with your name on the marquee, how does it feel after all of this time to front a band?
Ceci: It feels good. Tijuana No! was, like you said, all of us together, and you had to give in sometimes even if you didn’t feel like doing something, you had to learn how to share, how to communicate. With Julieta, it was very easy in the sense that it was all her, I’ll do whatever she needs me to do, and that’s it, so I didn’t have responsibilities. It was kinda lazy that way, haha, but it was a lot of fun. I just felt the need to do something, though. I started getting very anxious, and I decided to give myself that chance to start writing again, and it became a very natural thing that I started to want more freedom.

Andrew: So the EP came out about two years ago, and it was just three upbeat songs, more like a teaser, really. And now you have the full-length ready to come out. How do you go about choosing the songs that make up your first record? I’d imagine that you had a ton of songs back-logged
Ceci: I just don’t think about it. I just record as much as I can, and when the record is ready to come out, that’s when I choose. There are some things I’ll record and that just wait there, and I’ll have all of these new songs recorded that I’m really interested in and that I’m proud of and want to include, so I’ll switch a few, but it’s hard to say how I choose.

Andrew: You’ve been performing Latin music for 20 years, pretty much. You started out in a garage band, which became an underground hit, then a mainstream alterna-rock band, then you were in a pop superstar act. Latin pop music is the only genre of music that’s actually increasing in sales as the rest of the music world panics. As someone who has experienced the scene from every level, where do you see the popularity of Latin music going?
Ceci: I think it’s definitely growing. When I was growing up, it was all pop-rock, but there’s so much variety now, there’s hip-hop, punk, non-mainstream pop . . . there are also a lot of bands who want to sing in English now. I don’t really get it, but I guess everybody wants to be out there, but not really be considered a “Mexican band,” I don’t know. It’s very strange, but I’m intrigued by it, since there’s a lot of good stuff coming out.

Andrew: In a related question, when you started Tijuana No! in the late-80’s/early-90’s, there was a dearth of female pop musicians making great Latin music. Really the only pop idols that girls could look up to were people like Gloria Trevi and few others. How does it feel now, after seeing the landscape change, to see what you and Tijuana No!, Julieta and others may have changed to the point that there are so many great Latina singers who girls can look up to and feel that they can make it as musicians?
Ceci: I think times have changed. It used to be people saying “Hey, you’re my daughter, what are you doing with a bunch of guys?,” and Mexican culture was just so traditionalist, but I’m excited about now. I mean, Natalia (Lafourcade), I love her—she’s such a great musician and does such interesting stuff. And others, I’m just excited to see what’s out there, and I just felt it was time—I mean, you look at the U.S., there were so many women to look up to since I was little, and why did it take so long in Mexico? It was natural that it had to finally happen.

SXSW Entry #5 – Ceci Bastida, Pilar Diaz showcases

My apologies for the length between posts, everybody. People-watching this much hipster trash congregating in one place always leaves me thoroughly exhausted. I didn’t even know that they MADE size-26 jeans for guys. I always thought it was funny that they had “girls pants” in the guys section of American Apparel…

Anyway, Friday night’s show-hopping was a bit chaotic, but if not confusing. The night started conveniently at the beautiful Central Presbyterian Church to see the charming Ceci Bastida. I would say that she opened with a cover of Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown,” but that would be doing a disservice to the term “cover.” Ceci’s version was calmer and less calculated than the original; it made me think of what PJ Harvey would sound like if she were remixed by Caribou. As for her own songs, I don’t know if it was because of her or because the church was the first decent sounding venue I’d seen all week, but Ceci and her band sounded fantastic. Ceci kept encouraging the crowd to dance, and although no one took her up on the offer, that should be chalked up the venue more than any fault of hers (Writer’s Note: Check out the size of that cross!). Songs like “No Te Digan,” and “Levantar” were fervent and certainly danceable, filled with plenty of horns, reggae-like riffs, and backbeats; my best comparison would be the upbeat tracks off Lily Allen’s It’s Not Me, It’s You, although less polemic. The standout of the set, however, would have to have been the delicate immigration ballad “Canta El Rio.” Performed solo by Ceci with only a piano for accompaniment, the song was touching and fragile, without being preachy. Overall, a wonderful show.

After catching another set by Los Fancy Free, I went outside to look for a friend only to notice that Juan Son, who was supposed to perform at the venue later, had canceled his set, presumably due to a problem getting his band’s visas cleared. So basically, the next time you encounter trouble with la Migra, make sure that you make your loogie that much bigger for Juan Son (but don’t blame me when they beat the crap out of you afterwards).

Shaking off the disappointment with a disgustingly good street-cart bratwurst, I rolled over to Pilar Diaz’s show at Fuze. Pilar’s show didn’t start on the strongest note, mainly because her first song was an unenthusiastic song that featured just her and some programming, but also because the crowd seemed to have a fear to be within 5 feet of the stage. Her second song, “Tu y Yo,” featuring a trumpet and ukulele was much more inspired, and reminded me of Matt & Kim, except not completely annoying. She followed that up with the still-adorable “Piñata,” and although it was played with just a keyboard and violin (NOT A FIDDLE!), the crowd seemed to react highly favorable to this bit of obtuse pop. Pilar also enlisted the great Austin band Maneja Beto to back her up on a few tracks, which was an effective way of adding some needed feel to her simplistic programming. Pilar, however, was unable to recapture the heights of this 1-2 punch, and the show sort of fell flat by the end. 

SXSW Entry #4 – Bam Bam, Ximena Sariñana showcases

Hola guapo! Thursday night at SXSW was marked by a large influx of early weekend warriors filling the streets, and poor civic planning (seriously City of Austin, you choose SXSW weekend to start fixing street curbs?!). However, I was able to make it out to a couple of shows (Nellie McKay – HILARIOUS live, for what it’s worth), including a showcase by Bam Bam at Irish pub BD Riley’s.

I don’t know a lot about Bam Bam, aside from the fact that they’re from Mexico, and that they rock. And honestly? I think that’s all you need to know about them. Commanding the stage like it was just someone’s garage on a Saturday afternoon, the band rattled off song after song of fierce, no nonsense RAWK. Club Fonograma favorite “Sin las patas traseras” was the obvious standout, with it’s post-punk rhythm section and hush vocals, but was far from mellow. One interesting fact about this show: I had to duck out during the last song to make Phosphorescent at another venue, and noticed that BD Riley’s has no windows; when I walked outside, there were literally about three dozen people standing out dancing to the music. When you have almost as many people outside of the venue listening to your music as there are inside, that’s when you know that you’re a SXSW success.

A couple of hours later, I caught Ximena Sariñana playing a “World music showcase” (Writer’s note: As I told Carlos once, Latin pop with a jazzy flair is NOT WORLD MUSIC …idiots). Starting off with a hearty reading of the title track from Mediocre, Ximena was in full command of the crowd from the very start. After following with true-to-tape versions of “Gris” and “Pocas Palabras,” Ximena launched into a glorious rendition of the Best Song of 2008 (Writer’s Note: OK, only I think it was the best song of 2008, but whatever, it’s my post), the incomparable “Normal.” Introducing the song as being written at a time when she “hated love,” confounded by the “why it’s such a great feeling when it leave you sad,” or rather, well, “normal.” At this particular show, “Normal” was a study in contrasts: The depression of the lyrics as they’re written juxtaposed with a winking, smiling, DANCING Ximena; pounding drums and a Radiohead-like guitar solo side-by-side the song’s almost-poetic wordless chorus; everything about that performance was perfect. The rest of the show was filled with other tracks from Mediocre, including a charming version of “La Tina,” but the second standout was easily the original song for the movie Niñas Mal, “Como Soy,” played on a Bolivian guitar called a Charango—the song is very melodic, and perhaps the most “indie” thing that she’s ever written, although this particular version featured a keyboard solo that reminded me of the work of Paul Shaffer—then again, I’ve been told that I watch way too much Late Show with David Letterman. Nevertheless, this was the best show that I’ve seen so far at SXSW (regardless of language), if only for the fact that for 3 and a half minutes, Ximena made the world stand still.

MP3: "Por favor no vuelvas a nacer" - Bam Bam

SXSW Entry #3 – Natalia Lafourcade: LA ENTREVISTA

Disclaimer: I’ve been a fan of Natalia Lafourcade for over 5 years now, and developed quite a crush on her during that time. I’ve met and interviewed many pop musicians in my time, but this was the first time that I’ve been nervous in someone’s presence. To illustrate, I met EVERYONE in Natalia’s entourage because I was too scared to even look her in the face (maybe because it would then be too real that she was shaking my hand). I think you can even smell my anxiety in the pictures posted here. That being said, she was a very nice person, and more than gracious with her time. Well, here’s a transcript of our short interview:
Andrew: First question, writing in English: “Running Too Fast” has been around for a while, and you performed a few other songs in English today, [one of those being the Beatles “Blackbird”] do you plan on writing more songs in English?
Natalia: I don’t know yet. I guess I just wrote those songs in English because I was in Canada and I was hanging out a lot with many people from there. They just came out that way. I really like to go to many places, so writing in English is a way that I can communicate with more people. But I’d like to write more.

Andrew: You mentioned the Beatles, your music has a lot of Beatle-esque characteristics, particularly melodically. I go back to your first record, where you played a lot of different styles, bossa nova, funk, acoustic pop songs, rock songs, a little jazz, but the last two records, Casa and 4 Estaciones of Love, were straight-up rock and classical. For Hu Hu Hu, is it going to be like the debut, all over the place, or are you focusing on one style of music again, like acoustic pop perhaps?
Natalia: It’s very sweet. It’s sweet pop music, I’d say. It has a lot of experimental stuff, we try new things and sounds very different from the others. I think it’s the first album that really sounds like me, no one telling me “You have to do this.” I did what I wanted to do.

Andrew: Going back to Casa, how did it feel to make such aggressive, loud, screaming music?
Natalia: It was great. A part of me has that sort of thing, with the love of distortion, pedals, and all. This [new album], I’m in a different mood, probably because of the instruments. [4 Estaciones and Hu Hu Hu] are like siblings, haha, they come together. If you listen to the arrangements [of 4 Estaciones], you can see that it has a lot to do with Hu Hu Hu.

Andrew: The thing about 4 Estaciones, as classical music goes, it sounds like children’s music, y’know, not in a bad way…
Yeah, I know. I say that too. My album has sort of children’s thing, very sweet, but bitter at the same time.

Andrew: How does that feel, as a musician, artistically, having no words?
Natalia: It felt great. I wanted to make something that I wouldn’t be so worried about lyrics. Many times, I have done something, I don’t know how to explain it… For example, I make music without words, but I have to throw it away, cause there are no lyrics. So I wanted to make something that was just music, no harmonies, more free. That’s why I made it.

Andrew: You obviously like a lot of music, so I’ll ask the easy question: What are you listening to right now?
Natalia: Right now, one of my favorite bands is Fleet Foxes. I love them…
Andrew: That was my FAVORITE album last year… [Writer’s note: You can’t tell, but my heart just stopped for 15 seconds when I found out that our musical tastes matched up…]
Natalia: Haha, it’s my favorite record right now. Andrew Bird, too. Bat for Lashes, just a bunch of things, I can’t even name all of them. I like many styles of music, I’ve been listening to Afro-beat, particularly Fela Kuti.

Andrew: Your music is very complex in structure, particularly the way you use your background vocals, which are very intricate and layered. You’re obviously a very talented composer, and bandleader, do you see yourself as a pop singer in 10, 15 years? Or do you see yourself becoming another Gustavo Santaollalla, just making music, but not really a singer anymore?
Natalia: I don’t know, because I really like pop music. Sometimes I like being in the studio, but get tired, and just wanna tour and play for people. Producing is one of my goals, though. Not just for me, but for others, and a range of projects.

Andrew: OK, I like close every interview I do with a completely random question, so I just have to ask: Menudo or Pozole?
Natalia: (asking to make sure which one doesn’t have beef tripe) Pozole, haha.
Andrew: Damn! Well, thank you…

SXSW Entry #2 – Nacho Vegas, Natalia Lafourcade, Los Fancy Free showcases

Hellllllo Club Fonograma! Recapping the first night of SXSW shows, the only term that I can think of to describe the experience would be “exhaustingly awesome.” I mean, I don’t want to complain about seeing a mess of bands that I’ve literally drooled about seeing for years in an intimate setting, but do you realize HOW MANY MILLER LITE’S WERE SPILLED ON MY SHIRT LAST NIGHT?!! I think my shirt absorbed an entire six-pack last night…

No matter, cause otherwise, last night was very worthwhile. The first show I caught was Nacho Vegas, at a venue best known for comedic drag shows. I’m not sure if this was the reason why the bands’ mics were draped in feather boas, but regardless, it made them look cooler. I’ll be honest, I’ve never really heard much of Nacho Vegas’ music before, I mainly went to this show based on the high recommendation by this site’s fearless leader Carlos. But what I heard I liked.

Nacho Vegas’ set was propulsive and almost-hymnal at points. They reminded me a lot of El Cuarteto de Nos, if that band were fronted by the guy from Babasónicos. Some of the more mellow songs lost me for a while, but they made up for it with a blistering finale, with screams of “Otro dia maaassssss!!!!!!!!!!” ringing through the audience. Overall, good show; someone please send some recommendations of where to start with this guy’s catalogue.

From there, I moved on to Natalia Lafourcade’s “surprise” Billboard en Español showcase. This time, playing on a proper stage to a more-than-enthusiastic audience, including yours truly, Natalia delivered a diverse set of tunes from the upcoming Hu Hu Hu, and let me tell you: that album is now officially my most-anticipated record of 2009. Earlier, I said that the new songs sounded like Bueninvento-era Julieta; well, throw that thinking out. It appears that Natalia has found her own distinctive shade of indie-pop. If I had to compare the sound to another musician, I would say that of Andrew Bird—coincidentally, a musician that Natalia told me that she’s been listening to a lot lately. The new songs are intricate and rhythm guitar-based, accentuated by pounding drums, xylophones, and bells. One standout, “Ella es Bonita,” sounded almost twee. It was transparently sweet, but not saccharine. The same could be said for her re-imagining of “Casa,” tonight performed with only an acoustic-guitar and accordion. If I wasn’t still giddy about meeting Natalia earlier in the day, I would write that I fell in love that night (OK, I kinda did, objective journalism my butt!). Of course, it was “Azul” that closed out this show. Natalia modestly introduced it by saying “This is not on the radio,” but her and the band played it with an urgency that suggested that it was the biggest song on the planet. It was like a grand Sufjan Stevens track, except with cojones and no over-bearing whimsy. In a live setting, it’s soaring and majestic, full of highs and lows, as if it were telling a story—in short, the logical bridge between 4 Estaciones del Amor and Hu Hu Hu. I can’t wait for that record.

After wandering around catching a few other bands (including the Decemberists performing their prog-as-f*** new album in full), I ended my night with Los Fancy Free at a venue that looked like somebody’s driveway. I had only heard loose YouTube singles of theirs before tonight, but every song they played sounded familiar and fun. If I had to describe it, I’d say that they sounded like 2001-era Babasónicos, but without keyboards! Dancey like Phoenix, but with the aggression of the Futureheads. Cacophonous, but infectious. This is a band I would highly recommend seeing in a live setting, or at least throwing into the playlist at your next indie-rock dance party.

MP3: "Dry Martini SA" - Nacho Vegas

SXSW Entry #1 – Natalia Lafourcade Day Show

Hola, my fine and good-looking Club Fonograma readers! For my first SXSW entry, I was able to coax my way into Natalia Lafourcade’s show at the Austin Convention Center Day Stage. And by “coax,” I mean running all the way from a parking lot four blocks from the venue, literally panting as I met Natalia’s manager, while apologizing profusely. Luckily, there was no issue (I think the sweat really sold my exhaustion), and I was able to catch Natalia’s 22-minute set.

Playing in front of literally dozens of people, Natalia played 4 songs off of her new record Hu Hu Hu, and a cover of the Beatles “Blackbird.” With a three-piece band in tow, Natalia gave a rousing, if nervous, performance, though not without its highlights. If I had to describe the new tracks, I’d say that they sound like Bueninvento-era Julieta Venegas, without the overdubs and cathartic shouting. This may be due to the fact that the new songs were guitar-based rather than piano-based, a la Casa, if not obviously as aggressive. Each track was accentuated with the gorgeous background-vocal symphonies that are a trademark of her music, but the rhythms were sensual, almost groove-like.

The standout, on first listen, was the title track off the new record. Layered with jazzy and deliberate phrasing, I would say that it sounded like “En El 2000,” but this track was very mature, as if it were lived. In a way, that’s what I would say about all of these songs—the end of the pop star from Natalia Lafourcade and Casa, and the beginning of a Latin pop trendsetter.

On that note, I’ll be seeing her again later tonight, this time with a full set. And I also was able to interview Natalia, which you should look out for soon. Hasta pues!