Stream: Carla Morrison - Jugando En Serio

Following her outstanding and star-maker album, Mientras Tu Dormias, Carla Morrison continues to prove she’s one of the hardest working ladies in the biz. The Tecatense sensation just released Jugando En Serio, a five-track EP of self-revisions that pretty much seals her position as Mexico’s new sweetheart. Carla’s recent documentary, Dolores a Colores, showed the artist driving her pickup truck around Tecate looking for a bubble machine; that's the kind of warmth you’ll find in this acoustic set. She extracted two tracks from each of her two albums and attached the “new” song “Pan Dulce” (of course, if you’ve been following her, you’ll know that song traces back to her Babaluca years). The EP is out now and streaming in its entirety via Bandcamp.

Album opener “Yo Sigo Aqui” disarms the original bundled powerhouse edit, and transitions it into an even sweeter jam. Crowd-lauded singles “Compartir” and “Lagrimas” get a similar treatment, and Morrison really goes from heart-on-her-sleeve greatness to twinkle-toed harmonies. The addition of the accordion in "Compartir" is simply phenomenal. This is definitely a more condensed production at the hands of Los Rhodes’ frontman Alejandro Jimenez, who really polishes the tiptoe quality in the novelty of her voice and heart-wrenching whispers. Jugando En Serio is still goofier than its title suggests. It’s weird to say, but in its methods, this is punkier than anything she has ever released. But it's not the best impromptu recording of her career, I’m still holding on to the demos she recorded by herself using Audacity and GarageBand, still Carla Morrison’s melodic opium. Morrison is currently prepping her third album, to be produced by her occasional band members Andres Landon and Juan Manuel Torreblanca.

Minidoc Me Hace Ruido: Quiero Club

In a recent talk with the great people at NME I made a joke about how dozen-project man Roberto Polo (Mr. Racoon) pretty much took half of Monterrey’s bands with him when he decided to relocate to the Mexican capital. There’s a DF invasion directly caused by the narco war violence, which lately has hit Monterrey pretty hard. Some other bands that now call Mexico City home include Bam Bam, Mentira Mentira, Hypnomango, and Quiero Club. This last band is the real eye-opener because Quiero Club is above all things, a family. In a sort of MTV Cribs layout, the always aesthetically motivated people at Me Hace Ruido documented the Happy-Fiers’ installment to their beautiful new home. The 23-minute confessional-driven minidoc is a blast, and the band also gets to play a couple of songs, including their career-best single, “Minutos de Aire.” While this home seems to only be transitional, it will be remembered as the enchanting domicile that sheltered Quiero Club’s third album.

Las Kellies - Kellies

Kellies, Las Kellies
Fire Records, Argentina

Rating: 72

by Carlos Reyes

My most recent post on AltLatino is inspired by Piyama Party’s “Bandas de Chicas,” a generational song that acknowledges the recent flourishing of all-girl rock bands within our Iberoamerican niche. In that article I shortlisted bands like Spain’s Aias, Costa Rica’s Las Robertas, and Mexico’s Ruido Rosa. I also highlighted an all-grrrl (notice the three r's) power band that has been getting plenty of global buzz lately. Ceci Kelly, Betty Kelly, and Sil Kelly comprise Argentina’s dazzling trio Las Kellies. These Buenos Aires girls distance themselves from the modern noise pop cookie cutter, opting instead for the flippant waters of post-punk.

Picking up on a '70s sound and popular formation (for that time), Las Kellies’ revivalist flirtations go beyond their soundscape agenda. Kellies is the title of their third album, a great case study in trying to figure out our current definition of the post-punk femininity. Excuse my thirst for an all-girl review cliché, but there’s something so menacing about this record that would justify my fascination towards punk-girl plethora. History has seen the mother, the femme fatale, the bombshell, the transitional woman, the girl, and the Madonna, but, as in most aspects of cultural hegemony, it has overlooked its industrial characters. For all we know, Las Kellies might just be a trio of skilled and well-read friends who just happen to be females. But the physicality of their guitars, garage-raw tangents, and overall moxie reveals them as rebellious activists against any sort of decorative pin-up.

Leading single “Perro Rompebolas” is a fast-paced and all-consuming track worthy to be alongside any Paquita la del Barrio male-trashing track. Yet underneath the vocal ecstasy and barking, you can feel emotional depth pouring into chord progressions and nostalgia. “I don’t believe you, you’re just too good to be true” says the opening track “Prince in Blue.” Unlike many of the riot grrrl bands of the '70s, Las Kellies practice tongue-in-cheek conversation without conceding or compromising any of their socio-political discourse. The only flaws in Kellies are derived from its own all-comprehensive discretion. There’s nothing wrong with the bubblegum surf pop tracks, it’s the genre-stretching numbers (“Um Dia No Brasil," “Bife Dos”) that sound precarious. But even at precarious, they carry their spirit to higher grounds. Comprised of 14 tracks nicely chopped into tiny pieces of post-punk bravura, Kellies is an audacious record that should continue to bring the trio some generous intercontinental recognition.

Selena Gomez & The Scene - When the Sun Goes Down

When the Sun Goes Down,
Selena Gomez & The Scene

Hollywood Records, USA

Rating: 64

by Blanca Méndez

Hilary Duff at the height of Lizzie McGuire was one of the most successful and beloved young entertainers in the business. Her Disney Channel show's ratings were some of the highest the network had ever seen and she had a legion of fans that seemed ready to follow her as she tested musical waters. But a few lackluster singles and a couple of forgettable movies later, and Duff was relegated to the has-been pile along with the other child stars who didn't quite weather the transition to adult star. Miley Cyrus followed the same path, and we have yet to see if her Hannah Montana-fueled stardom will last. So, is Selena Gomez's career doomed to the same fate? Not necessarily. For one, Gomez actually has a good voice. And, perhaps most importantly, Gomez's fan base is more powerful than Duff's ever was because of their online presence. Perhaps if Facebook and Twitter had been around in Duff's heyday, she might still be a major player in entertainment today. Not only is Gomez's fan base a strong online force, they are also very loyal. This base that she built from starring in the popular Disney Channel series Wizards of Waverly Place stayed with her when she branched out into film and music (Gomez is already on her third studio album), and even after she snagged everyone's dream boyfriend, Justin Bieber. Her latest album, When the Sun Goes Down, which Gomez cleverly debuted on YouTube earlier this week, is expertly produced and executed with the kind of poise and professionalism that can only come from having gone through the hated Disney machine.

Gomez is a born performer whose acting chops come through on album highlight "Whiplash." The song, co-written by Britney Spears, goes hard with fantastic talk-singing theatrics over some pretty sick beats. Also noteworthy are the buoyant "My Dilemma" and latest single "Love You Like A Love Song,” with its accompanying technicolor video, complete with piñata, quinceañera dress, and electro mariachi. Synth-heavy "Bang Bang Bang" is a verging on childish middle finger to the trifling ex-boyfriend. On the track, Gomez brags about her "way better than you" new boyfriend, and she has good reason to brag seeing as she and the Biebz form a power couple to rival Beyonce and Jay-Z. And, according to this track, dude knows how to treat his lady right. Or maybe she just knows how to keep him in line, like in "That's More Like It," a song co-written by Katy Perry. We see where they were going with the track, but, much like Perry herself, the track turned out trite (though still incredibly catchy).

The empowering message of "Who Says" gets lost in translation in "Dices." The English version of the song borders on nauseating with its beauty-lies-below-the-surface and you-can-be-anything-you-want-in-life themes, but lines like, "Who says you're not star potential? Who says you're not presidential?" are equally charming and cringe-worthy. Gomez recorded a Spanish version of the song because she felt its message was an important one to share with a wider audience. Unfortunately, she didn't know what she was singing when she recorded "Dices" and ended up singing about not being a "flor de metal" (whatever that means). Woops.

Riddled with cliches like "diamond in the rough" and "we'll sleep when we die," the album doesn't exactly reach great lyrical heights. But musically, When the Sun Goes Down is smart and well-crafted, a solid work of pop with plenty of party potential. I know many (or most) of you are skeptical. You may dismiss Gomez as just another product of the Disney machine, one that consumers will get bored with and discard in favor of whatever fresh-faced, wholesome youngster Disney is grooming to be the Next Big Thing. And you may be right. But, for now, it's great to have a young Latina so prominent in mainstream American music, especially one who such is a veritable force in pop, not just on Radio Disney.

Video: La Reina Morsa - "Navegar"

Music video directors Roberto Cisternas, Luc Gajardo, and NJ Lopez have combined their narrative entrepreneur spirits in La Reina Morsa’s cinematic new clip “Navegar.” This track extracted from La Reina Morsa’s impressive debut, ¿Donde Estan Las Jugueterias?, showcases the band’s eminence in making coming-of-age pieces serving from fundamental composition and adolescent isolation. This clip frames a neorealist love story of attraction and jealousy awakening, all with a great sense of comic relief. More straightforward about its lesbianism than Javiera Mena’s “Esquemas Juveniles,” this is a lovely audiovisual piece unattached of any senseless commentary beyond what’s actually presented. Also, a great companion to Mark Waters’ dazzling Mean Girls (best popcorn movie in the last 10 years).

♫♫♫ "Navegar" | Facebook

Violeta Castillo - Uno/Otro

Uno/Otro, Violeta Castillo

YoConVoz, Argentina

80 ★★★★

by Enrique Coyotzi

Last year was a tremendous one for Mexican female singers. Artists like Carla Morrison, Ceci Bastida, and Julieta Venegas, shone inside and out of our indiesphere, each with a fantastic album under their arms. In 2011, Argentina is the cradle for exciting young women songwriters who are embracing the DIY ideology at its best, obtaining astounding results with sparkling straight-forward, yet idiosyncratically complex pop songs. Together with labelmate Luciana Tagliapietra, the wonderfully gifted Violeta Castillo is one of the most interesting exponents of this new wave. Having dissolved her band, Castillo Violeta, the 22-year-old artist went solo and, in a period of less than a month, recorded a glorious, miniature wonderland. Like for Tagliapietra's Diagrama de Ben, Tucumán served as the perfect setting for a truly personal record. A refined debut album which she peculiarly decided to split into two EPs, Uno and Otro.

At first listen, the 10 songs that shape Uno and Otro (five in each one) may not be particularly grabbing. This happens due to the length of the pieces (the majority of them last less than three minutes). It may be difficult for the listener to find something instantly memorable to grab onto in such a short time (although “Mi Cárcel” is an evident exception), especially considering that, while these are pop tunes, the structure they are built under is somewhat atypical. But Violeta's sharp craftsmanship is truly hunting. Presenting top-notch production by Tucumán’s psych-poppers, Monoambiente (Castillo’s favorite band), this is a provoking release that draws spectacular sophistication in the instruments it utilizes. There’s a placid flow throughout both EPs, ornamented by sharp electronic bleeps, texturized glossy synthesizers, and noteworthy rhythm bases that accentuate Violeta Castillo’s delicious guitar playing skills, as well as her sensitive fiber-moving singing.

One of the most commented aspects about this record has been the rather unusual way Castillo selected to distribute it. It’s true that she could have put these tracks in a single album instead of disconcertingly separating them into two parts. This division could be envisioned as the A and B sides of a cassette or vinyl, a brother and sister work, a necessary pause that the songstress found essential in order to show us two opposed sides of her poetic vision that, in the end, presents us clearly the innate talent the songwriter possesses for crafting timeless, yet fleeting pop marvels. Great examples of these sublime wonders are each of the EPs openers, Uno’s “La Batalla del Movimiento,” which, while over in a breath, displays a strong, capturing melody and Otro’s “Mi Cárcel” (featuring Tagliapietra's choruses), an addictive tune that has the potential to become a crossover radio hit. Other standouts include the mellowly reflexive “Bolsillo Secreto” and the more traditionally assembled slow number “Felpa."

With a mesmerizing assortment of high quality imaginative songs, Violeta Castillo’s Uno and Otro is among the year’s most beautiful works executed by female solo artists. Think of the EP duo and Tagliapietra's
Diagrama de Ben as sister albums (without the drama). And it isn’t a coincidence both recordings come from Argentina (its indie pop renaissance is for real). Both sides of the EP also serve as a thrilling introduction to an individual whose artistic talents are crystal clear, just like her natural sensibilities for creating beautiful pieces that feel effortless ("y me quedo yo con las palabras"). Time will show us how Castillo’s artistry evolution will bloom; in the meantime, her jaw-dropping debut demonstrates she’s got a promising road to walk.

LAMC 2011 Lineup: Rita Indiana, Ximena Sariñana, Napoleon Solo, Francisca Valenzuela, Hello Seahorse! + More

Club Fonograma had LAMC fever last year when our beloved writer Blanca Méndez (a newbie back then) and guest photographer JP Abello brought the one-week experience to our personal computers. CF won’t be covering this year’s Latin Alternative Music Conference unfortunately, but that doesn’t stop us from getting excited about it. Plenty of people we love will be there. LAMC week will run July 6-9 and, as it does every year, will bring Latin Alternative’s cream of the crop to New York City. What we love about this event is that it’s not only an industry forum, but is also people-oriented. Some of this year’s exciting performers include Los Lobos, Ely Guerra, Hello Seahorse!, Ximena Sariñana, Choc Quib Town, and Francisca Valenzuela. New York will also get to see hot new bands like Venezuela’s La Vida Boheme and Spain’s Napoleon Solo. And, of course, there’s something about RITA INDIANA playing at Central Park that just seems epic.

♫♫♫ Poncho feat. Shannon Funchess of !!! - "D.I.S.C.O"
♫♫♫ Anthony Santos (Uproot Any Moombachata Mix) - "Vete"
♫♫♫ Ximena Sariñana - "Tu y Yo"
♫♫♫ Napoleon Solo - "Lolaila Carmona"

Kanaku y El Tigre - Caracoles

Caracoles, Kanaku y El Tigre
Ombligo Records, Peru

by Carlos Reyes

“If we suddenly learn to kill and go hunting, I wish to give you a flower for every one of my nightmares.” That’s a picturesque line from Kanaku y El Tigre’s hit single “Caracoles,” the relentless title track of what’s likely to be the most lauded Peruvian release of the year. As wandering folk goes, these Peruvian newcomers are bubbly songcrafters whose well-trod melodies spoil their resourceful dynamics and enchanting camaraderie. Caracoles is an intriguing debut even within its flaws.

Kanaku y El Tigre bring the bouncy and pastoral frost to our beloved indie fruit punch, yet much of the pieces on their debut tackle the sadness derived from failing to rise. If we were to dissect “Caracoles” into pieces, these would come off as rumbling strips about loss and echoes, a complete contrast of what you actually get as a whole. “Caracoles” succeeds because of its sheltered warble and heart-consuming hopefulness. Even if the song is all about self-vicious realization and lament, its sudden rhythmic movements push that song into a resolution: “ya no hay nada mas simple que echarme a reir.” Caracoles points to all the right places but occasionally finds uneven ground whenever the band strips down to its fundamentals (“Lucia”), sounding merely languid. The duo’s sympathy towards immediacy matches their aspirations, and this is bittersweet news for those of us inclined toward a progressive rustic vein of folk rather than something discrete or circumstantial.

The band sounds the brightest in album highlight “Tu Verano Mi Invierno,” a track with breezy back vocals that bring the andino fondness afloat in the best of “Chipi Chipi.” Also very appealing is the adjacent tone of Kanaku y El Tigre’s broken-vibrato voices, both as vulnerable and nostalgically South American as those from Fernando Milagros and Prietto Viaja Al Cosmos Con Mariano. Crowd favorite “Bicicleta” points out their ability to tell a story, but their instinct towards stomping walls into every strum shows just how tight their compositional skeleton is. Yes, a limited soundscape, but audaciously crafted. Bruno Bellatin and Nicolas Saba employ DIY convention, yearning lyrics, and rhythmic lines of bedroom pop and campfire folk. Although often unfocused and metrically defenseless, this first reference should earn them the Most Likely To Succeed plaque, at least locally.

Video: Los Reyes del Falsete - "El Gran Cohete"

The immediacy of the Internet is not as cozy as we make it out to be sometimes. It took a couple of months for this eye candy video to hit our headquarters, but that delay is easy to overlook if we consider this song dates back all the way to 2009 (an eternity in blog years). Los Reyes del Falsete is a three-piece Argentinean band comprised by Nica Rex, Juanchy Munchy, and Tifa Rex. They make fluid, nonchalant pop rock and get pretty close to actual euphonic harmonies. “El Gran Cohete” is an extract from their debut album, La Fiesta de la Forma. As you can see from the odd frisson displayed in this clip (or the band members’ monikers), these guys have a hardcore fixation with dinosaurs. Yes, even Barney. Here the band crosses every visual platform to reach space, or at least enough virtual windows to ridicule NASA, The Twilight Zone, and the Marx Dinosaur toy collection.

Pitbull - Planet Pit

Planet Pit, Pitbull
J Records, USA
Rating: 48
by Andrew Casillas

Barring some sort of catastrophic natural disaster soundtracked by “Rolling in the Deep,” Planet Pit is going to top next week’s Billboard albums chart. I know what you’re thinking: this is another “LOLZ pop music sux guyz jeez” review, or a companion piece to Pierre’s awesome J. Lo review from a week ago. Well, this review is neither of those things. I’m here to announce, with my full cognitive faculties functioning at a high level, that Pitbull’s new album is not the worst thing ever. It’s even good in spots!

Now, to be fair, Planet Pit is far from a great record. In fact, it downright sucks in huge chunks. The less that can be said about the first three tracks the better. Particularly the “I Gotta Feeling”-aping (of all fucking things) “Give Me Everything” (although it’s nice to see Ne-Yo get some decent radio play whenever you can) which, honest to whatever god you pray to, is one of the worst pop singles of the year. And the Marc Anthony song sounds exactly like the type of music played at the worst club you can think of. You know that place with all the sketchy lighting and dudes in fluorescent silver shirts and the $6 Bud Lights? I know you know.

Most of this record is wasted on generic club tracks, which appear to get off on homogeny and groan-inducing double entendre. Although, hey! A catchy club jam with T-Pain! “Hey Baby (Drop It to the Floor)” at least tries to shake off some rust with its stomping bit and T-Pain-isms like the “Best Jam of 2007 That Never Was” that it is. There’s also a satisfying piece of cheesy balladry with Kelly Rowland (say what you want about Pitbull, but dude is single-handedly putting Americans back to work!) and the Basement Jaxx-y “Took My Love,” which could easily crack the top half of Femme Fatale (easily one of the highest compliments you could give about a pop song in 2011).

So, yeah, Planet Pit isn’t the end of Western civilization. It’s not really good either. But c’mon, this is a Pitbull record. Hell, it’s not even really a record. This is something meant for study in marketing textbooks for years to come. The Pitbull story is one of great promotion and brand positioning—increasing your notoriety without actually engaging what you’re supposedly notorious for doing, carefully and painstakingly creating an impenetrable persona and affixing yourself to the right groups, then PROFIT! I’m not even trying to be facetious. Dude should get a medal for fast-tracking the path to sustained fame in a way that used to take people years (or one prominent scandal) to achieve. Pitbull is now the Klondike bar of rappers—something that a few people get really excited about, others occasionally like to partake in, and the rest just shrug and walk past. Hey, it could certainly be worse.

Actually, one last thing: FUCK “Shake Señora.” That song is eeeeeeeeeeeevil

Featured: Mentira Mentira - "TIME TIME"

Featured: Mentira Mentira - "TIME TIME"
Nene Records, Mexico
by Carlos Reyes

Now that Bam Bam’s Futura Via and Odio Paris’ self-titled album have seen the light of day (with plenty of shine), there are only two other rock albums we’re absolutely craving: the debut albums of Spain’s Pegasvs and Mexico’s Mentira Mentira. While the former has yet to announce an actual record, the latter is taking the right steps toward victory. Mentira Mentira’s Gaby is a true force of nature and having Bam Bam’s Mou on board as your producer can only make things better. The one-man act will actually be releasing two albums this year through two different labels: Meaningmore on Nene Records and Gasoline on Vale Vergas Discos. Last year, during El Garage’s last breaths, some lucky people got to download a rough cut of Meaningmore, and our assenting excitement gives us away us as part of those people. The album was removed from every corner of the web and has been building muscle with a top-notch production it clearly deserves.

With the visual eye of Jaime Martinez the band unveiled “Turnaway” a few months ago and are now back with the jaw-dropping track “TIME TIME.” This is Mentira Mentira at its best, showcasing queasy dissonance and infernal glow to the contrasting chant of Charles Manson’s “I’ll Never Say never To Always.” Yes, this is somewhat of a study on the American icon of evil. The start is peaceful and shimmering, building up to the most corrosive soundscapes you could possibly think of. The track comes with a NSFW clip that might give the creeps to more than a few people (let's see how long it takes before someone flags it on YouTube). It features footage from several documentaries about the serial killer and excerpts from Jim Van Bebber’s The Manson Family (2003). This is some kind of romantic stigma on human insanity. Horrific and toxic, yet full of emotional depth.

♫♫♫ "TIME TIME" | Facebook

Video: Afrodita - "La Cumbia de los Guerreros"

It’s been three long years since Mexico’s kitschiest duo, Afrodita, gave us news of a new album. The duo, comprised of Imma Miralda and Karin Burnett, is the kind of act that blurs the lines between guilty pleasure and artistic pedigree. Their debut record, La Reina del Palenke (Discos Tormento, 2008), did a splendid job in presenting their futuristic synthesized cumbia, their histrionic aesthetics and devotion towards iconic figures like La Virgen de Guadalupe and Tego Calderon. Afrodita is putting the final touches on a double album that will see the commercial light in a few months.

Like most of Afrodita’s songs, leading single “La Cumbia de los Guerreros” is highly stylized as a chant for Mother Earth, one that’s needless of any rules or restrictions. Afrodita starts by acknowledging their mestizaje and then take a visit to El Planeta de las Lizardas. Luis Morales’ directing evokes an array of sources that go from pre-colonial Mexico, to Santo vs. La Invacion de los Marcianos and George Lucas. According to Morales, this is “the first part of a trilogy that tells the never-ending story of the clash between good and evil.” For a nation whose latest viral videos include Los Alguiens’ “El Internet” and Galatzia’s “Tachas y Perico,” Afrodita’s chances towards new media impact are certain.

Mexicans With Guns - Ceremony

Ceremony, Mexicans With Guns
Innovative Leisure Records, USA

Rating: 79

by Jeff Siegel

One of the greatest things about Club Fonograma lays right within its name--we're a club. And like any great club, we appreciate an outsiders' perspective on the things we discuss. With that in mind, we've invited Jeff Siegel, formerly of Stylus Magazine but now a visual artist working out of, to review the latest from Mexicans with Guns.

Be it foible or folly or or pig-headed compulsion, I've yet to encounter a politically or socially charged bon mot slapped hastily onto an artwork that didn't lead me down a rabbit hole of wild associations and armchair sociology. It's what I do. So, Mexicans with Guns: narcoterrorism, outland clashes, incomprehensible gore, sidelong-stare darkness, "ay, gringo,"etc., etc., blah blah blah. It's easy to make too much of that name, which is of course why I have. And naturally it has no bearing on anything.

It's weird: it's usually the po-faced residents of the World Music ghetto who get caught up in some misbegotten politics-of-representation stuff, but this is as perfectly Europhilic, and apolitical, a bass record as anyone's made; how this has gotten filed under "música mexicana" so often is a little inexplicable. Sure, there are plenty of hand drums floating around, but what bass track doesn't have a wood block or shaker in it somewhere, swiped in that inimitably European oh-thank-God-something-new manner? The occasional bursts of Spanish won't trouble the most rudimentary American understandings of the tongue. (If it helps the reader to get where I'm coming from, I've seen more carnicerías than butcher shops in my day, though I've never been any farther south than Virginia.) What Ceremony is most like, in fact, is an oughty-teens update of the nineties-era Mo' Wax/Ninja Tune template: stylistic shifts through all the colors of the electronic-music rainbow, peppered with exoticism like falling confetti, and focused on very-Now fractal syncopation and American-style trunk rattle. I might hazard that it matters some that he's a native of San Anton', but I'm pretty sure it doesn't, anymore than it matters that dyed-in-the-wool guarachereño Untold went to Mexico that one time.

Speaking of Untold, there are plenty of reasons to pay close and happy attention to MwG, not the least of which are his deliciously modish influences. Sr. Dunning would be smug about putting his name on "Mirage," with its cheap, ghetto blaster pocks and plunks, and that same magnificent way of dropping everything out for a second or two too long, twisting it around like a balloon animal, then throwing it back, like a dancefloor pulse test. And it would be easy to imagine Kode9 gleefully ruining the sawtooth cone-toasting of "Jaguar" (complete with actual really-dude? sample of a jaguar roar) with a terrible Spaceape vocal. But where Untold deals in yawning voids and Kode9 in opressive cold and drizzle, Mexicans with Guns fills every corner with a dank humidity that, sound-wise, is probably the most overtly Mexican thing here, though I understand Texas is a lot like that too.

I'm harping on the name and the trappings, I know, but that's what happens when one slaps something so incendiary on the cover of one's record. Not talking about Ceremony's Mexican-ness, ignoring the Aztec calendar on the cover, neglecting the luchador mask he wears at gigs, treats all the presumably important cultural signifiers--they are everywhere in the presentation--as little more than patterning on a duvet cover. The lovely, wide open synths and bongos of "Opening Incantation" are accompanied by a spacey yet stern-sounding woman: "soy la montaña, soy el mar, soy el cielo, no hay espacio, no hay tiempo." It's cod-spirituality, the sort of thing Talvin Singh would use to sound worldly, but it's still as close to politics or social issues as the record itself comes. In the above-linked NPR interview, MwG explains his choice of name, how it evokes thoughts of "gun rights, the border, immigration, education, stereotypes," and the all-important, "etc.," and the NPR hack, bless him, dutifully compares that move to Miles Davis naming Tutu after Desmond. Against all odds, that sounds about right: we'll never know if anyone coming at Tutu without the title would think of apartheid. It's the Godspeed You! Black Emperor syndrome: the politics are pre-suggested on the wrapping, but would a listener ever get there on their own?

What rankles isn't so much that it's kind of cheap as it's basically unnecessary. Strip all that away and you're left with a highly polished, wickedly accomplished bass record, as good or better than any other this year. The highs--the ridiculous R&S-isms of "El Sol y la Luna," the purple sunburst of "El Moreno," the crushing house of "Dame Lo"--are towering, and the lows--a listless Freddie Gibbs on "Highway to Hell," the too-trad reggaeton of "Me Gusto" (seriously)--are still perfectly redeemable. In the end, Ceremony comes hard enough to render its own presentation obsolete, and these days, that's saying something.

Video: Gepe - "Alfabeto"

After winning every girl’s heart at SXSW, finishing an extensive tour around Spain, and jumping on stage to sing “Debajo de Mi Lengua” alongside Julieta Venegas, Chilean heartthrob Daniel Riveros is back into the large scale promoting his masterful album Audiovision (Quemasucabeza, 2010). Following the multihued “Por La Ventana” and otherworldly “Un Dia Ayer” videos, it’s “Alfabeto” that now gets the visual narrative treatment. A year ago we applauded this song’s bundled strings and how it managed to “present domestic gratification, all while embracing pop elements with turbulent, collapsing clutches tracing back to Phil Spector.” This clip, directed by Bernardo Quesney (solo this time around), is dramatic and rustic. In our SXSW interview, Gepe described this song as one that equaled skill with artistic ambition. “I think of “Alfabeto” in the way of not saying anything. The music that I like never tells a story. It’s always little bits of ideas and scenes and images, but never a story from beginning to end. And I think Chileans are like this, we never tell an entire story."

Luciana Tagliapietra - Diagrama de Ben

Diagrama de Ben, Luciana Tagliapietra

YoConVoz, Argentina

Rating: 87
by Carlos Reyes

Of gargantuan confection and gorgeous sophistication, Luciana Tagliapietra’s sophomore album, Diagrama de Ben, is an astounding collection of sonic motifs packed with enough progressive elements for an individual’s revolution and a collective warfare. Recorded in the fertile Tucumán Province in Argentina, this record nuances the solidification of Tagliapietra as one of the most exciting new voices on the continent. Targeting personal overhaul rather than crowd-pleasing delegacy, Diagrama de Ben arrives at grandiosity with a lavish orchestration worthy of a Renaissance affair and an allocated space in its digital environment. Tagliapietra’s instrumental wardrobe is rich and eccentrically hermetic, like a demoiselle’s turnaround toward social interaction. Yet, it is the songstress’ analog lyricism that also finds her as an immaculate renegade. Luciana Tagliapietra’s debut Los Domingos (YoConVoz, 2009) was an exciting revelation but bled from its ever-pealing ambition. Diagrama de Ben brings a well-rested singer with a devouring stream of consciousness and a relinquished wisdom of existentialism.

For starters, Luciana (a self-declared romantic) delivers one of the most beautiful lines of the year: “Quién iba a imaginar, quién iba a imaginar, vos tenés algo de ángel y de rock.” This gorgeous excerpt from “Trompetas” is a romantic rapture in a song rooted in classic tenor but that’s anything but traditional. The way Tagliapietra enounces her words is truly nurturing. She examines her vowels with delicacy and grasps from the obscurity of her often-contained throat, all while sounding sublime and delightfully menacing. The structure in this particular song is flawless, the first pronouncement of “Quien iba imaginar” is cynically insecure, but the second time isn’t. That accentuation of a group chorus is only one of the many small flourishes in this magical melodic garden. Plus, seriously, when was the last time a girl validated love by pointing out the “rockness” in her lover? I can’t remember it in music, but this rock of Versailles romance resembles Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, and that ended on the blade of the guillotine.

Often full of unnerving eroticism and transfixing melodic precision, Diagrama de Ben would be the perfect soundtrack to Manoel de Oliveira’s Singularidades de uma Rapariga Loura. Yet despite my inclination to reference flowery films, it would be irresponsible to describe Luciana’s sensitivities as cinematic. Her condensation of the verse-chorus-bridge norm serves as a pop narrative that no visual art could undertake, not at this level of musical derangement. “Si Las Cosas” is a gut-wrenching, fleshy piece that through its disparate instrumentation manages to shift its humanism toward eerie complexities. Other numbers (“El Bicho” and “La Musica”) are proclamations of a widescreen disposition, like the coming together of Van Dyke Parks and Jon Brion for a single cause: the consummation of normative hedonism with technology.

There is nothing in the world of arts as exciting as the acknowledgement of "the form," which my favorite track on the album, “Las Carreras,” is a torrent of. Here, Tagliapietra sings about her desire to fill a room with gifts and craves for the day her lover will return to supervise her own shipwreck. The song’s topics are aligned with astounding structural fluidity, illustrating a Venn diagram’s intersections of love, desire, pain, and illuminating indiscretions. This is a precious album in symmetric skill and musical framing. The ending line in “Las Carreras” imagines a surreal scenario in which a dream about a horse race is both the cause and the liberating factor of love’s misfortunes. This is some beautiful, deep stuff. Barely passing the 20-minute mark, Diagrama de Ben is only missing a good album cover & a few tracks to go 'up there.' But as it is, it's fulfilling in all its seven tracks. Even in its immersive, flowery condition, this is close to musical poetry and one of the year’s best.

Jennifer Lopez - Love?

Love?, Jennifer Lopez
Island Records, USA
Rating: 32
by Pierre Lestruhaut

So let me tell you about that day when, after gladly handing over a feature on a new track by an awesome, yet relatively unknown indie band, I was already mentally preparing myself to find another cool weirdo act giving their music away for free that might deserve a three and a half-star review. All of a sudden I receive a very pleasant email from our editor, Carlos Reyes: “Have you thought of your next review? I was thinking you might enjoy something different, like a mainstream record?” Fuck. “I don't know what album though...Maybe the new one by J.Lo?” Oh...Fuck. So apparently J.Lo was now somehow relevant to our small music sphere? All these years of gladly ignoring most mainstream Latin pop, and now I had to review a Jennifer Lopez record? How the hell was I actually gonna be able to pull this one off?

So, after much anxiety, I decided maybe it was time for me to stop being such a pussy and finally engage myself in reviewing a potentially bad mainstream record. I had to start somewhere, maybe downloading the album would be a good start, and while downloading check out what reviews have been published. To my surprise its first single, “On the Floor,” had actually been reviewed on CF earlier in January, and to no surprise it says “posted by Blanca Méndez.” But she seems to really hate the song, and she’s totally right about it. This is a truly awful song. I mean, who the hell decided it was a good idea to try to get a pop hit out of reusing that “Lambada” hook like 30 times in 4 minutes? Apparently the guy who produced “Alejandro."

But still, it’s not the only song on the album, and I had to be a responsible writer and give the whole thing a few spins while checking out on Wikipedia who the hell produced all this shit. Interestingly enough there’s a couple of tracks produced by The-Dream and Tricky Stewart. There’s “Good Hit” that has a cool old-school beat that gets completely drowned by J.Lo’s auto-tune singing of “I got that good hit." But also “Run the World," which apparently on a demo version circulating prior to the album’s release had Rick Ross doing what he does best (which is basically having a cool voice) but for whatever reason he was removed from the album version (WTF?). And you also have Lil Wayne rapping on “I’m into You,” which is kind of intriguing, except he’s rapping to a really awful Stargate beat (where the hell are you Swizz Beatz?) and mostly delivers some really blunt lines like “I’m falling for you baby, I need a parachute / So wet, I need a wetsuit.” (Anyone else really miss the mixtape Weezy?)

But I should at least say something relatively insightful about J.Lo as a pop star, maybe a comment on her career arc, on how being an American Idol judge might have affected the way she sings and performs, maybe even steal a bit from the ideas on that Slant review where they mention pop music in a “pre-Gaga world,” or something like that. At least a paragraph that really validates the publishing of this review, gives our readers something to think about the state of mainstream pop in 2011, and in the way might spare us the usual “why waste your time reviewing this” comments. Or at least something that when I read this two years from now I won’t feel completely embarrassed about the bullshit I wrote. Oh, fuck it, let’s just give this shit a 32.

Video: Lido Pimienta - "La Rata"

“Quiero matar, quiero matar,” sings Lido Pimienta in the menacing entrance of “La Rata.” That vocal sequence finds the Colombian virtuoso lamenting a world of disappointment as she adjusts her emotional canvas to confront her political discourse. “A strong, dissident and beautiful piece for the global pop avalanche in search of reformation.” Under the directing lens of Guillermo Restrepo Cervantes and featuring gorgeous masks crafted by the singer herself, this video dignifies the monumental song quite remarkably. Lido’s confrontation with the camera comments on individual and national identity while keeping things seductive and a bit gangster (which would explain the song’s inclusion on the soundtrack of HBO’s TV series Capadocia). “La Rata” is part of Lido Pimienta’s debut LP Color, recently published on vinyl by LA-based art community collective KU DE TA. And, no joke, this vinyl has to be the most gorgeous acquisition in our entire record collection.

Stream: Linda Mirada - Fabuloso San José

As previously announced with that glorious 3D Crazy-Ball platform video for “Solo,” Discoteca Oceano (in collaboration with Lovemonk) extracted a few tracks off Linda Mirada’s debut album China Es Otra Cultura (Independiente, 2009) as Ana Naranjo’s first reference with the label. Fabuloso San José is a gorgeous 12’’ four-piece maxi-single that should provide Linda Mirada with plenty of momentum before she drops her new album early next year (to be recorded in San Francisco this summer). The album consists of four pop gems that have been given the remix treatment by some truly elegant, world-renowned acts.

Fabuloso San José opens with a funky on-the-floor remix for “Solo” by the you-didn’t-know-she-was-Latina Ramona Gonzales, better known as Nite Jewel. It follows with synth pop dynamite rendition of “Tokyo” by California’s Part Time, while Ruby Suns exploits the Spanish boogie out of “Hermosilla.” We once referred to Linda Mirada as “the lost little lamb in Spain’s indie," we’re glad to see her fate shifting into a smart and ambitious career. Stream the maxi-single in its entirety, and grab one of the tracks via Altered Zones.

Domingo En Llamas - Harto Tropical

Harto Tropical, Domingo En Llamas
Independiente, Venezuela
Rating: 60
by Jean-Stephane Beriot

A world without packaging, wrapping, and commercial intuition would be dreary and disappointing to the senses. There’s not a single song in my iTunes library without some kind of embedded artwork; an album without an album cover is as muddy as a blind date or, even worse, as ineffectual as an eHarmony profile without a face photo. Where exactly am I going with all this? Oh yes, to Domingo En Llamas. A few weeks ago when I asked our editor for the album cover of Domingo En Llamas’ latest record, Harto Tropical, he informed me of a sacrilege: “Jose Ignacio Benitez doesn’t believe in album covers.” Well, this is an intriguing surprise (especially for someone who points to Dr. John's Gris-Gris (1968) as his favorite album of all time). A few ideas come to mind when trying to figure out Benitez’s reasons for visual-less records, but none strong enough to convince me. Sure, having a cover gives the listener a predisposition of an album’s content, but Domingo En Llamas' form of "untold data" excitement is purely transitory.

As you can see, I made myself an UNOFFICIAL album cover for Domingo En Llamas’ eighth album Harto Tropical. Having that ugly grey music note on my iPod felt like giving up to the standard, and I wouldn’t allow myself such an option. Perhaps this was Benitez’s plan all along, to let his listeners draw conclusions like we used to do with self-made mixtapes. While the entrance to the Harto Tropical is a bit jumbled and might require a few first steps for some of us, the hassle is worthy for a one-man act that has crafted one of the most interesting profiles in Venezuelan music today. We’ve previously described him as an auteur, a troubadour, and a music historian. After two glowing reviews for the wonderfully theatrical Fledermaus (2008) and the erotic Truccatore (2010), his latest album, Harto Tropical, is supposed to be ghostly, but it’s mostly bland. My lexicon is very limited, so allow me to go back to our latest Shakira album review (Sale El Sol) and steal its description: milquetoast.

Harto Tropical is an evocative folk record that strikes to sound like a time-defying rock and roll album. While that approach would seem promising to both experimentalists and purists, the line of attack is so disputed that it almost drowns in sentimentalism. Some of Benitez’s questionable practices include the stamping of normative composition (“Las Afinaciones Narradas”), jazzy simulations (“Despropositos”), and middling one-man orchestras (“Laudano con Vainilla”). Harto Tropical isn’t an awful album, though, it’s just Domingo En Llamas’ first less-than-extraordinary album and that’s why I might be sounding a bit harsh. Fortunately, there are enough good ideas in here to give it a passing grade. Especially in the idea of making a zarzuela opera house out of songs like “Fariseos y Anonimos” and “Montecasino," where Bentinez’s virtuoso eye for words, royal festivities, and baroque linguistics prevail. Fun fact: Domingo En Llamas’ “Depredadores” was the wrapping theme around our very first volume of Fonogramaticos. I don’t mind making album covers for future Domingo En Llamas albums as long as we get back to the more adventurous and less ethereal artist we fell in love with a couple of years ago.

Featured: Carmen Sandiego - "Dandy Rasca"

Feature: Carmen Sandiego - "Dandy Rasca"

Independiente, Uruguay

by Pierre Lestruhaut

Even though Carmen Sandiego’s fourth release, Joven Edad, made it into CF’s best albums of 2010, many of us weren’t really paying attention to what Flavio Lira and Leticia Skrycky were doing as a duo a few years ago (which was interestingly documented in the short-film Dónde en el mundo) before the band had mutated into their present line-up of fully formed indie pop quartet. So for those who recently discovered their early records, it was clear that the band’s evolution over the years seemed to be more in the line of constant reinvention rather than linear progression, of adopting a different sound for each release rather than focusing on polishing a specific one. From the bedroom noise-pop experiments of Vida Espiritual (2007) to the simplicity, honesty and plain nostalgic sweetness of the very twee-inspired Nanas (2008) and Ristampa (2008), these were very disparate releases from what we would have expected of the band that captivated us with self-aware lyricism and well placed punch-lines in Joven Edad.

“Dandy Rasca” is the latest track from the Montevidean band, a pleasant two minutes of straightforward rock and roll and country guitar licks in what is clearly their most upbeat song yet, the one where perhaps they realize how much being a guitar-bass-drums line-up allows for a more accessible songwriting style without abandoning the quirkiness of indie pop. And even though it’s probably not their greatest song, it’s still a very satisfying move to follow their most attention-grabbing release and, at the same time, it’s the kind of song that has us both scratching our heads and quivering with excitement as to where this band might be going next.

Stream: CSS - "Hits Me Like A Rock" (Dillon Francis Remix)

Two months ago Brazil’s most fêted indie act ever, Cansei de Ser Sexy, showed up in most of the high-end publications around wearing self-made Sharpie-written T-shirts that unveiled the title of their forthcoming third studio album, La Liberación (out August 22nd). Recorded at their own studio in Sao Paolo, the 11-track album also marks CSS’ first release for V2 Records. The band will be releasing the new album’s first single, “Hits Me Like A Rock,” next month, but a remix by LA’s moombahton hero Dillon Francis has stumbled onto the web, giving us the first glimpse of the band’s breezy arsenal.

Despite always sounding fresh, CSS’ career has been a hit-or-miss, and this hints modest at best. Bandleader Lovefoxxx gives it her best at dancefloor sentiment, but nothing really steps out of middling dance-pop squiggles. Of course, we’ll still have to wait for a final deliberation once the proper single shows up. If the album’s title is some kind of implication that they’ve escaped from their flamboyant trademark, then I’m excited. With collaborations from Ratatat, Primal Screams’ Bobby Gillespie, and Aladdin Sane’s Mike Garson, it seems like CSS won’t be dropping the party-starter qualities anytime soon. If they do, we’ll always have Erick Rincon to save our day.

Little Ethiopia - Little Ethiopia EP

Little Ethiopia EP, Little Ethiopia
Independiente, México
Rating: 69
By Carlos Reyes

Weighing appeal against melodic success, Little Ethiopia’s self-titled opera prima is an ambiguous first step from what has to be one of the most bloggable newcomers in Mexican music. Little Ethiopia is the localized embarkment of José Solé and Santiago Gómez, two 17-year-old kids whose idea of cosmopolitanism involves a good set of rhythmic shifts and plenty of buoyancy. With not many bands from our niche to measure up to, comparisons to Surfer Blood, Smith Westerns, and Harlem are somewhat justified, and the band’s aimless, axe-wielding penchant is of great export potential.

“I burnt the feet of the devil for my broken heart,” says Little Ethiopia’s first single, a darkly tinted number that reveals the band’s punctuated areas (slashing guitars and monochromatic slogs), while also revealing flaws in their off-the-cuff lyrics. Another tribulation in their music is the presence of a deeply affected accent that feels culturally-weaved and uncomfortably stretchy. Like most of their revivalist peers, the duo dresses pop structures in avalanching noise (of both riffs and electronics) and, as unpolished as it might sound, the band’s youthful spirit and catchiness prevails. Album opener “Lies” breaks loose from the act’s vintage aesthetic and steps into the hip-shaking barbarianism of Bloc Party and Foals. This song is so catchy and self-emerged in grooves that it makes me wonder if these kids belong to the last generation to grow up listening to MTV Latinoamerica (not the best music on there, but certainly catchy.)

Little Ethiopia’s mechanisms work best when they labor their landscape in petite scales as they do in “Young Love & Nightmares.” Here we get a wounded melody that actually fits into the duo’s panoramic ambition while maintaining their juvenile inquisition (as deeply chanted on the album’s best line: “young love is not the way to go”). Little Ethiopia is a clever entry-level record with a few flaws and a few flashes of brilliance. Still, there are empty patches between the music, lyrics, and aspirations that need nourishing (too much of them are plainly simple). Sometimes having a chaperone around isn’t such a bad idea; it would certainly make things more tactile and less dependable.

♫♫♫ "Lies" |Download EP

Video: Helado Negro - "Regresa"

With his terrific second album under the Helado Negro stage name, 2011 is sure to be a fabulous year for Roberto Carlos Lange’s alluring electro-folk project. Included in our latest compilation, Nuevo Ideal, “Regresa” is the first single extracted from the Brooklyn-based artist's adventurous new record, Canta Lechuza (Asthmatic Kitty). Directed by Chicago’s fine photographer Gus Gavino, the video for the song presents a sober white scenario where a pair of youngsters, represented by the figures of dissected foxes with petrified stares, struggle under a common situation of distressing distance; a turmoil that is expressed through a bear and its open jaws. “Regresa acá mi mujer/Ya no puedo más,” Lange croons, while the elegant male protagonist uses his dancing skills and physical expression to seduce his lady, who prefers to evade him by putting a paper napkin on her face. We eventually see the girl having flashbacks of the couple’s happy times in bed, her daily work routine, and also a trippy sequence of hypothetical death with rising souls worthy of an Animal Collective/Panda Bear video.

Video + MP3: MKRNI - "Humedad"

Just when you thought Chile couldn’t get any cooler (you didn’t actually think that, did you?), a band like MKRNI comes along with a sweaty jam like this one. We think they pronounce their band name like the pasta, which is fine by us because we kinda want to chill out and make some macaroni art to this music. The video isn’t exactly chill, what with its pixilated Tetris-y background, the band’s loud (and totally awesome) attire, and the moves that they clearly picked up at the Daniel Riveros School of Dance, but the music is sending out some serious time to lounge vibes. Because when it’s the kind of humid hot that the band is talking about (if you’ve ever experienced the “humedad sin sol” of a New York City subway station in summer, you know all too well), all you want to do is lie in a hammock, sipping on some mango juice. In fact, that’s exactly what we’ll do. With “Humedad” on repeat in the background, of course. Catch MKRNI this month when they play a string of NYC shows, plus a couple of other east coast gigs.

♫♫♫ "Humedad"

Featured: Shantelle - "Otto y Ana"

Featured: Shantelle – “Otto y Ana”

Independiente, Mexico

Tijuana’s music scene has always been fascinating, it’s the one town you can always turn to when trying to diversify your color palette or embrace your sinister being. Recently we’ve been a bit too preoccupied with the all-mighty ruidoson and overlooked a few acts that might not be as electrifying as the residents of La Bodega Aragon but are truly worthy of our attention. Some of these artists include Belafonte, Dani Shivers, and Ibi Ego. A couple of weeks ago CF-favorite Orlando introduced us to a song that’s been haunting me since its very first spin. Orlando described them as his favorite Tijuana band and went on to confess that these guys were actually the band that accompanies him in his full-band gigs.

Shantelle is a stirring addition to the line of shoegazing bands (Odio Paris, Las Robertas, Grushenka) that are embracing the fuzzy aesthetic of noise pop. Although Shantelle’s formation dates all the way back to 2003, the 4-piece band is on its way to release their debut album this year. For starters, I’d say the dazzling “Otto y Ana” should do a fine job profiling the band as something more than promising. Otto y Ana are the two main characters in Los Amantes del Circulo Polar, a 1998 cinematic exercise by Spanish filmmaker Julio Medem. Shantelle takes the narrative of a thorny romance to metaphysical proportions. The explorations given to Medem’s initial ideas are of grandiose verbalism, and the band’s instrumental and rhythm machine sequencing is equally thrilling. Even if you know the outcome of the story, when that last refrain shows up, you can’t help but to sing along “salta de la ventana valiente!”

Adrianigual - Éxito Mundial

Éxito Mundial, Adrianigual
Cazador, Chile
Rating: 81
by Jean-Stephane Beriot

The national idiosyncrasy is the heart and cerebral consciousness of a country’s musical legacy. That secretive, almost tabooed understanding of existence and infrastructure gives music a national aroma. This is not a reflection of national pride, but a common denominator in how the romanticism of the arts is inclined to a form of collective absorption. In the words of Club Fonograma’s chairman, Carlos Reyes, “Chileans carry the poetic vein.” Yes, for better or for worse, part of Chile’s idiosyncrasy has been spoiled and demolished for the well-being of Latin American pop. Almost mirroring the history of Chilean diplomacy, Chilean artists have decoded their storytelling abilities, appreciation of the music form, and techno-anthem ambitions into the realm of pop expression.

I suspect (and expect) every review of Adrianigual’s Éxito Mundial will start with the same acknowledgement: 2010 was one heck of a year for Chilean music. That Javiera Mena-Gepe-Dënver ménage should be acknowledged as a landmark of the Chilean vernacular for many years to come (probably the most significant music wave to hit Latin America since La Avanzada Regia). We’re not trying to look for substitutes or souvenirs, but the arrival of Exito Mundial calms our compulsive behavior to tell the success story of Chilean pop in a linear progression. Many would argue Adrianigual needs to breakthrough the shadows of their fellow fulfilled stars, but, the truth is, Adrianigual raised the bar themselves four years ago with that epic kill-your-generation anthem “La Mistica Espiral” off their debut album Baila Baila Canta (Independiente, 2007).

Armed to the fullest in leading single “Me Gusta La Noche,” founding members Diego Adrian and Nacho Aedo polished the perfect single for their triumphant comeback. Already one of the hits of the year, this compelling piece is rowdy and chaotic, yet so warm and orchestral. “Me Gusta La Noche” is this year’s flash-frozen summer jam, one of human adventure and unquestionable soul. Without marginalizing its topics to adolescent agony, Adrianigual sings about “dancing your dreams,” and I don’t know about you, but that just makes me sweat over the dancefloor (and on a couple of walls). If El Medio’s “Que bueno que nadie piensa en mi” is the embodiment of the #ForeverAlone meme, then Éxito Mundial’s opening track, “Arde Santiago,” must be the epithet of #DisasterGirl. Under eloquent production by Alex Anwandter (a master of disco songcraft), this first track pictures Chile’s city capital in devastating flames. Our character, however, gazes back only to rejoice the burning of his bridges (“atras arde Santiago, es un dia muy feliz”).

Adrianigual serves sonic templates with both the forward-looking chasms and revivalist melancholy. “Me Cargan Los Ochentas” is perhaps the album’s most sober piece and yet it’s got a certain over-the-shoulder sexiness a la Scritti Politti with the R&B fluency of Junior Boys. Album highlights “La Agente” and “Bang Bang Bang” find Diego Adrian spitting some impressive unorthodox rhymes in the lines of “la noche que ya no cabe dentro del fokin corazon” in the former or the “B.O.B” Outkast reference on the latter. Adrianigual proves to be resourceful at all times and, even when they seem destined for self-sabotage (“Haiti” & “Siglo XXI”), their dystopian charm saves them from drowning in pandemonium. Closing tracks “Sudamerica” and “La Pelea” are all about moody affairs, and the guys sustain their bad boy image while sounding remarkably considerate. Éxito Mundial feels like a tailor-made blockbuster full blown into a pop record. Adrianigual’s practices are often questionable and relentlessly aggressive, yet for every midnight escapade they also kiss the sun. Self-empowerment at its core.

Los Tigres del Norte - MTV Unplugged: Los Tigres del Norte and Friends

MTV Unplugged:
Los Tigres del Norte and Friends,

Fonovisa, Mexico

Rating: 44

by Andrew Casillas and Blanca Méndez

It's not that Club Fonograma's two Texans have ever been (directly) involved in drug trafficking, cock fighting, or any of the other unlawful activities that Los Tigres del Norte make music about, but having both grown up near the Texas-Mexico border listening to the accordion-heavy sagas that the band is famous for, Andrew and Blanca just know what Los Tigres are about. That's why they decided to review the band's Unplugged record together.

Andrew: So, we doing this?
Blanca: Yeah, hold on while I get my coffee.
A: Good, hold on while I get a paleta.
I just had some spicy as fuck chile, and my mouth feels like its gonna fall off.


A: I guess the easy way to start a Los Tigres del Norte joint review is by discussing our respective thoughts on the band.
Personally, I love the living hell out of these dudes.
Still one of the best concert experiences I've ever had.
B: My appreciation for them is fairly recent.
I grew up listening to them because they were pretty much the only band that my dad ever listened to.
A: That's interesting...My dad loves their music but cannot take most of their stuff seriously.
Probably because there's a whole chunk of Mexicans who listen to "Jefe de Jefes" (coincidentally the opener on this Unplugged record) and think "THAT'S MY LIFE, VATO!"
(btw "Jefe de Jefes" is a fucking gangsta ass track and I'm glad they opened with it.)
B: Agreed.
My dad likes to sing that song when he wants to feel better about himself.
A: I completely sympathize.
So, you aren't up on these guys aside from the big singles?
Like, you've never heard one of their compilations or full-length LPs?
B: Not recently, no.
But, like I said, I grew up listening to them.
My dad has everything they've ever recorded, and he played their music all the time at home. So, their music is pretty much ingrained in me. At least at a subconscious level.
A: So getting to this Unplugged thing, is it me or does this crowd sound loaded?
B: Yeah, I was going to mention that...
A: To be fair, these dudes come out SWINGING on the first two songs.
Flat-out classics.
And THEN...Paulina fucking Rubio

B: I <3 Paulina.
A: Of course you do.
I'm trying to figure out the point of this Unplugged.
Were they trying to appeal to people like you, who have nostalgic ties to Los Tigres but also totally go crazy for Paulina?
Or is this some sort of tribute to Los Tigres del Norte and how their music transcends the corrido genre?
B: Maybe a bit of both, but probably more the latter.
Because I don't really see "people like me" listening to this album strictly for the nostalgia.
A: Have you heard this record before?
B: Yes.
A: Because if it’s a matter of Los Tigres transcending shit, well there's our evidence.
Now I know how those beatnik fuckers felt when Dylan plugged in at Newport.
I don't know, maybe Paulina just leaves me cold...I guess we'll just listen on.
B: I agree that the strings in the corridos are disturbing.
I don't get it.
My dad would probably be all, OMG STOP.
(If my dad actually said things like OMG, that is.)
A: "Lagrimas del Corazon" reminds me of another good point.
For all the praise and notoriety of their narco-corridos, these guys can write one hell of a love song.
B: Yes!
A: They're very casual and significant.
They don't aim to be deep or universal.
They're very personal, and yet have a great reach.
THIS is honestly the type of thing I wish this Unplugged would showcase.
B: Exactly.
A lot of the reason that I wasn't really about them growing up, was I found their vocal style really grating.
But it works so well for this kind of love song because it feels really sincere.
A: So, how are you feeling the vocals in this quieter setting?
B: Well, for that last track, the setting is perfect.
But I can see how other songs, like the two openers, would work better in a rowdier, more big dance-type setting.
A: Or "La Puerta Negra."
The audience found the open bar right before this song came on.
And, in all honesty, I was doing a bit of air accordion right now.
B: Ha!
This is one of my favorite Tigres tracks.
Probably because of the accordion.
A: See, but it's the Los Tigres-ness of this track that SHOULD BE REWORKED on a record like this.
Why not add some funky instruments like it's an outtake off Cafe Tacuba's Re?
Replace the accordion with steel pedal or a fiddle?!
B: Fiddle on this track would have been amazing.
A: Fiddle on EVERY track would have been amazing.
Or, I mean, fuck, they have Andres Calamaro on the record, and he doesn't do anything!
B: None of the guests really do anything.
I feel like the "and friends" part of this whole thing was more like, "Oh, and these other people, I guess."
A: Good point.

I still wrestle with this record's existence.
It would never get played on radio stations that play Los Tigres del Norte songs.
And it would never get (non-deliberate MTV promo) air time on a music video channel that shows Paulina or Calle 13.
I mean, using Julieta's Unplugged as an example, that thing appealed to ANYONE who liked Julieta OR the guest stars.
B: Yeah, this one's in a weird in between place that doesn't quite work for any specific audience.
Like, I probably won't listen to it after this.
It would have been much more interesting for me if the guests had actually contributed something worthwhile and weren't just an afterthought.
A: Well, speaking of the guests, now we're at the one with Zack de la Rocha.
Fifteen-year old me is high-fiving the shit out of himself right now.
But here's another example of why this album doesn't work.
You have the lead singer of Rage Against the Machine up there, and he doesn't do what everyone knows he does.
He's just a bystander in Los Tigres del Norte.
Why not speed up the tempo and let the guy do his angry-rap thing?
B: Right.
I was excited about this one for a number of reasons.
The main one being because I was a pretty big fan of Rage in my brief angry teenager phase.
I was really interested in how Zack would fit into this song.
A: Apparently he fits like a duvet cover - he's there, but not in any essential way.


A: Besides the fact that he's Colombian in a song CLEARLY ABOUT MEXICANS, he actually tries to put himself into the track.
But it's just weird to have this cover, when this exists.
B: I was waiting for you to link to that.
But, yeah, I don't HATE the Juanes version because at least there's an effort.


A: Now for the closer...
B: This is the only one I didn't remember listening to before.
And the brass intro threw me off.
But the Calle 13 part…
A: At least they let him rap.
B: True.
But it still feels disjointed.
A: To be fair, at least they patterned this album like an actual Los Tigres show.
This is usually their go-to closing number.


A: The crowd certainly loved this, what are you final thoughts?
B: If I had been in the crowd, I probably would have loved it too.
But listening to the recording of it doesn't quite translate.
A: Well, I guess that's the problem with these Unplugged records as a whole.
Unless you're doing something outside of your M.O. (Julieta, Nirvana, Jay-Z), it's gonna be a one-time listen thing for anyone.
I mean, even great bands like R.E.M. have done Unpluggeds that just didn't translate because the album was too indebted to what came before.
I'm glad MTV chose this tribute to Los Tigres del Norte (for whatever reason) but don't think I need to hear this ever again.
I'll just go play the originals while drinking Bud Light.