Café Tacvba arrived to town this past weekend and it was one of the best concert performances I’ve seen in my entire life. I wrote a short recap of the night for LA Taco.
Here’s an excerpt:
After eight songs, all classics re-envisioned for acoustic performance, Jerzaín Vargas (trumpet) and a brass band joined them on stage for a trio of songs, starting with “La Muerte Chiquita.” Gustavo Santaolalla also made an appearance to play a charango during “Olita de Altamar.” The gasps and applause that emanated from the audience when the stage lights revealed his face would have one believe that royalty had mysteriously coagulated from mist.
It’s the last music roundup of the year! And, ironically, my first post of the new year too! Maybe it’s “late” by conventional standards but it’s not as if I suddenly stopped listening to all this music as soon as the clock marked the end of 2021.
Anyway, this isn’t my version of a “Best Of” list; it’s a continuation of the posts I’ve worked on in recent years to write about and share some sweet, sweet music I’ve listened/am listening to at the moment.
This album was originally released in 2018 but exclusively on Amazon. It’s now available on all streaming platforms. Thank goodness for that because it’s an amazing collection of Texan soul tunes produced by Adrian Quesada of Black Pumas and features a who’s-who of soul artists including Aaron Frazer of Durand Jones & The Indications, Brownout, David Hidalgo and Steve Berlin from Los Lobos, and Tejano legends including Ruben Ramos, Johnny Hernandez and David Marez.
Texas soul to me is a unique Texas take on what we know as soul music, in a way that could have only happened in this state. You had this melting pot of black, brown, white; and you had proximity to the Mexican border adding influence…what has been exciting to me about making this record has been the process of working with some of these living legends – getting them in the studio, hearing and documenting their lifetime of stories…and honor the fact that these people opened the door for us to do what we do now.
A disembodied voice introduces the listener to this latest work by this experimental rock group from Ciudad México that takes its name from the famous opening line & title of the story by Juan Rulfo.
“Hoy es un día cualquiera pero yo ya no soy yo” mumbles the vocalist. “Today is a day like any other but I am no longer me.” Like other artists, Diles turned to their art to make sense of the pandemic and quarantine while also treading new territory with their new bassist. The result is a sonic treasure that veers away from the post punk malaise of their previous work and towards fusions of krautrock, spoken word, and jazz. It’s also an aural roadmap of Mexico City told through the senses of a young group navigating the new normal, or “neonormal,” as they put it, of their lives with millions of others.
I saw these guys live at Viva Pomona in 2014 and am happy to see them expanding their psych rock creations. Producer Hugo Quezada brought out the best in the band on their sophomore full-length outing, following a debut album that was impressive though marred by moments of psych pomp and excess.
Lost among the praise for last year’s “Patria Y Vida,” produced and created by a half-dozen of his Cuban peers, was the release of No Me Mientan (EP) by Cuban rapper El Individuo. Produced by Los Angeles’ own Chief Boima, the title track bounces alongside his lyrical wordplay on verdades y mentiras (truth and lies). He also dropped a handful of singles worth checking out.
Evan Mast, aka the other half of Ratatat alongside Mike Stroud, dropped this solo record this year. There are parts of it that sound similar to Ratatat but their trademark, shiny wah and/or distinctly tremolo’d guitar aesthetic soon takes a backseat and disappears for more of Mast’s unique production skills. You may have heard these skills gracing & supporting the vocals of artists such as Despot, Kid Cudi, Kanye West, and Nas.
Their name makes them a bit difficult to find online but they’re worth the time! Their latest is a self-titled EP that finds the band laser-focused on heavy doses of melodic & progressive rock, which is a far cry from the more chaotic, experimental phase that initiated the early stages of their career, as represented in Kair, their 2016 full-length debut album.
It’s two for two for Idles with this follow-up to last year’s Ultra Mono. Where UM was non-stop rage with a brief spell for a respite, this latest work is a slow, burning growl of an album with a brief spell for all-out rage.
INFINITY is the artist name for Jose Antonio Bravo’s latest musical offering. Many may also recognize him under his longtime creative moniker of DJ Bitman/Latin Bitman. Bravo’s latest project was born from his desire to learn meditation. After starting mindfulness techniques, he realized he needed music to assist him in his meditation. Thus, he created INFINITY.
Heal is the third album in this series of music designed specifically for meditation and follows the same pattern as its predecessors Breath and Relax: 10 tracks each at 10 minutes in length. Each album provides music that fit the mood of the album’s title, which I’ve found very helpful and soothing during this millionth year of the pandeimc. The fourth and final album, Gratitude, is also available now.
Isidro Cuevas y Willy Cabañas – Producciones Miramar
Cumbias rebajadas de las mas chingonas. This cocktail of slowed-down cumbias is the second collection of cumbias rebajadas by the duo of Cuevas & Cabañas (aka G-Flux and Amantes del Futuro) in as many years. The cumbias don’t bump faster than 80bpm and are loaded with trippy space effects while sounding incredibly romantic. It’s my second favorite album of the year (scroll a bit further to see my #1 favorite).
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Butterfly 3000 and L.W.
What better way to prove that you’re a musician than by doing nothing else with your life other than creating music every single second of every single day? Australia’s KG&TLW live by that motto. The band have a whopping 18 studio albums since 2010.
KG&TLW unveiled two albums last year. First is L.W., the follow-up to 2020’s K.G., which continued the band’s foray into microtonal music structures. It’s a psychedelic trip through funk, jazz, and rock fused with a backbone of, let me say it again, microtone structures influenced by “Eastern” music (re: Arabic, Middle Eastern, & other regions/cultures).
The second album is Butterfly 3000. It’s a concept album of sorts stemming from the life of the Blue Morpho butterfly. Stu Mackenzie explained it all in an interview with Stereogum, if you’re interested in the context. Unlike its two predecessors, this one is heavy on the synthesizers and trippy love!
Massive shoutout to this trio from Guadalajara! This is the group’s debut album and it makes quite the statement. I can say without a doubt that it’s my personal favorite album of the year thanks to their wall of sound that gallops through waves of shoegaze, post-punk and psych rock.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who loves live renditions of theme songs from classic video games. The covers by Mariachi Entertainment System blew me away from the first note to the last note. Their latest release is a collection of covers from The Legend of Zelda series of games. Can someone get Miyamoto on the phone. We need a full mariachi remix of A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time!
Pronounced “menyers”, as in Karl Menger of Menger’s theorem. I don’t know what means for the band in any context other than proper pronunciation and for the fact that there’s some fun use of geometrical grids and such in the embedded video below, but they’re on this list for a reason!
Producer Hugo Quezada makes another appearance in this roundup, this time as the maestro working behind the scenes on Mengers’ second full-length album in as many years. I’ve read a few articles describe them as noise rock but that suggests that there isn’t a method to their musical madness. Not so! Their method within the madness is to give that madness a shape and form so as to understand and, most importantly, confront that madness.
Santiago Motorizado – Canciones Sobre una Casa, Cuatro Amigos y un Perro
Santiago Motorizado, aka Santiago Ariel Barrionuevo, aka the singer & bassist of El Mato A Un Policia Motorizado, returns with another soundtrack-as-solo-album. Diehard fans will recall 2019’s La Muerte No Existe y el Amor Tampoco, which is an original film score written by Santiago. This time, he’s put together 18 songs for the Netflix series Okupas.
In an interview with dod magazine, Santiago explains that the re-release of the show on Netflix required new music as director Bruno Stagnaro was unable to renew the rights to the original music used in the series during its original run 22 years ago. Stagnaro sought out El Mato who provided a new song and a few remasters, released last year as Unas Vacaciones Raras, and eventually also hired Santiago to create new songs as well.
The album also serves as a lesson in ethnomusicology as each song jumps into a different genre from Argentina’s storied music history. There are also collaborations with other musicians from Argentina including his father Felipe and his brother Facundo on “Un Día No Vas A Estar”.
The band’s name translates to unstable systems and this 2021 release certainly lives up to that name. It features only two songs, “Signum” and “Praedatum,” that clock in 30 seconds shy of a quarter of an hour long…but that’s all the trio need to show off their incredible talent as multinstrumentalists with live instruments, synthesizers, and drum machines.
The album is also the first of three EPs to be released before their second LP.
There’s definitely something about life in Mexico City during this pandemic. These guys are also from Mexico City and, like Diles Que No Me Maten and Mengers before them, they have turned to the heavier, distorted side of rock music to make sense out of the senselessness of the 21st century.
Una nación profundamente racista, misógina, violenta y llena de oscuridad. La gente idolatra monumentos mientras desprecia a las mujeres, las voces de sus habitantes son ignoradas constantemente y la desesperanza se ha convertido en nuestro estado colectivo natural. /// A deeply racist, misogynistic, violent and dark nation. People idolize monuments while despising women, the voices of their inhabitants are constantly ignored, and hopelessness has become our natural collective state of mind.
Various Artists – Sonideras Peruanas: Cumbias & Guarachas Limpias
In 1971, Alberto Maraví launched INFOPESA, a record label in Lima, Peru that signed some of the most legendary artists from the region. Los Mirlos, Juaneco y su Combo, Los Hijos del Sol, and others graced the roster at any given point.
Alberto passed away last year and his son, Juan Ricardo took over operations. JR and the team at INFOPESA spent the pandemic pouring over the label’s archive of recordings, alongside his Alberto before his death, to restore and relabel numerous recordings popularized in sonideras, a type of block party unique to Mexico City.
The end result is this album packed with 17 songs heard at many sonideras since the 70s, digitized, remastered and compiled for the first time on one disc.
I find it hard to believe that this is only the band’s seventh studio album considering the fact that they’re celebrating their 25th anniversary as a band this year. Quality, not quantity, perhaps!
Speaking of which, I don’t know how these guys do it, but they manage to make each album sound like its own epic work of art without going overboard. Their most recent offering is no different.
Maybe there are folks out there who could make a good argument claiming that the band is mostly treading comfortable waters since 2008’s Reptilectric. That album, in my mind, is the high-water mark for alternative rock music from Mexico of that era and certainly the one that defines that era for me. I’m sure some folks will disagree and have plenty of other bands to namedrop that could fill that role; that’s fine, however, it won’t sway my mind otherwise. Of course, that also means I believe the band peaked in 2008. That said, they continue to offer amazing albums, like this recent offering, to listen to and I welcome each one they have to offer!
The artists at Daptone, such as Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Antibalas, Charles Bradley, Menahan Street Band and The Sugarman 3, to name but a few, were at the tip of a steadily rising wave of a new generation of soul artists. The Dap-Kings even found themselves working for a time for the late Amy Winehouse. They recorded most of “Back to Black” with her and producer Mark Ronson in the studio and performed with her as her stage band on many occasions.
The stature of an artist like Winehouse coupled with the general misunderstanding of soul music as a product of a bygone era provided Lipsky with some challenges when she set out to write “It Ain’t Retro.” She initially wrote the book as a scene study of soul music but had a difficult time selling it to a publisher.
“After working on that for some time, it turns out it was too broad and too niche,” she explains by phone. “No one wanted to buy it and I had to pivot. A lot of the time, the people that are making these editorial decisions, be it in publishing or in journalism, this really isn’t their bag. Soul music is Motown and it’s oldies and that’s pretty much it. Then there was Amy Winehouse and that’s pretty much it. My experience was that a lot of folks didn’t really think that there is a market for telling these stories.”
My latest for KCET is my interview with a half-dozen artists who are part of a new wave of souldies artists. Souldies, a.k.a. Chicano Soul, has a distinct flair and sound that’s also connected to a specific cultural context, which I write briefly about in the story.
The familial connection to the music and the culture is one shared by nearly all the artists involved in this resurgence of oldies music. Samano recalls his parents putting artists such as The Delfonics and Brenton Wood on heavy rotation during his childhood. Lane grew up on gospel and studied “the pillars of northern soul” while studying music in college. Garcia’s father had a record collection that included Smokey Robinson, Mary Wells and Brenton Wood plus dozens of doo-wop artists.
The same goes for Vicky Tafoya, founder and singer of Vicky Tafoya and the Big Beat, who grew up surrounded by the sounds of doo-wop, big band and Motown. As the youngest of 12 children, she inherited the vinyl records that each one of her siblings left behind as they moved out. She became completely enamored with the music and had a life-changing experience in 1989 when she joined The Doo-Wop Society of Southern California. It was there that she would spend years watching and even performing acapella doo-wop on the same stage as the artists she listened to obsessively at home: Vernon Green and The Medallions, The Teenagers, The Six Teens, The Chantelles and many other legendary artists.
We’re past the one-year mark of this horrid and frustrating pandemic. Those initial months filled with angst & fear from the (somewhat slightly still) unpredictable nature of the novel coronavirus forced me to make numerous changes in my life, including to my thesis, that set me back at least half a year but, hey: boats against the current and all that!
The good news is that it all appears to be coming to an end. I received the first dose of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine already. Many of my family members & dozens of friends (some of whom survived COVID though a few their loved ones, friends, & co-workers did not) have received their doses as well.
Music played a role in getting me through it all (as it did last year). There weren’t any live shows to enjoy but plenty of new releases to listen to! Here’s a shortlist of artists/music I’ve listened to recently. May it captivate you as it captivated me in this continually strange time!
Antifragile – Abraxas
Antifragile is the first “artist” and first release at Spirit Bomb, a record label whose founders want to build a roster of “digital” artists. In this case, Antifragile is a weird, goat-headed creature that bears a slight resemblance to the Icon Of Sin from the DOOM franchise whose music is composed by Eye Contakt (Autry Fulbright and Mark Pagly).
Costa Rican producer Barzo has been incredibly busy for more than a year now. He released an album with numerous singles & videos last year, many of which were collaborations with other Latin American artists: Nakury, La Dame Blanche, El Individuo, and Un Rojo Reggae Band, to name a few. His latest is also a collaboration: Bahía feat. Pahua a.k.a. Pau Sotomayor of Sotomayor. Their track is an electronic banger that is a hypnotic and psychedelic tropical banger for the hopefully mostly pandemic-free summer that awaits us.
Bomba Estéreo – Agua
“Agua” is the first single off Bomba Estéreo’s upcoming new album, Deja. The duo of Simón Mejía & Li Saumet. Check out the single on Spotify which comes with two additional tracks: “Deja” and “Soledad.”
Also of note is their work on the documentary film Sonic Forest (which you can watch below), which “showcases the inspiring journey of Simón Mejía, founder of Latin music sensation Bomba Estéreo, as he travels deep into the jungles and mountains of the Colombian Pacific to discover the richness of Earth’s most megadiverse places through its local music and its people: indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities who work every day to preserve their territories.”
When I say that this album is heavy, I mean it both sonically and emotionally. It’s political, instrumental drone/doom metal courtesy of Takiaya Reed (Black & Tsalagi [Cherokee]) & Sylvie Nehill (Māori) that they create “to undermine and destroy the white supremacist colonial framework and to fight for Indigenous Sovereignty, Black and Indigenous Liberation, Water, Earth, and Indigenous land given back.”
There’s also a bit of spoken-word poetry on “Did You Have Something To Do With It” by Minori Sanchez-Fung that lays it all out on the table:
This is our time The legacy of greed has grown from its seed To infiltrate every place Every face
Releasing a suffering recorded in Stone And in bone So old that language can’t console it
This was the blow which we struck At first without knowing how deep it would grow. It would grow Into a frightening history that fractures hope
First, by attacking the body And then, by distorting the mind
It would grow And force us to question if we are a part Of this world or its affliction.
Whether our addiction to power will consume the beauty that was once our birthright
This is our time What is certain, is life Growing out of itself greater than the moment before Within us, around us, in spite of us.
Proving we can’t control The thing that brought us up from the cold and will press us back like flowers into the mold. We are tethered to a circuit that excludes nothing a song the dead can hear. Something resilient forming all Something that makes time small. So old, that language can’t dispose of it
Still gold over the violence. Don’t forget, this too, this too, is our time Our spirit is not weaker, it is waiting on us to decide What it is, that we will honour while we are alive.
Listen/watch the single “Denial” shot by Amber Beaton:
LASTMONDAY – YOUNOWUTÁMEAN
Another artist who hasn’t slowed down throughout the pandemic is the Bronx Dominican LASTMONDAY who stays killing the game with his beats, flow, and bilingual Spanglish rhymes! He released a slew of singles, videos, and a mixtape, Yo, Tigerito!, throughout the pandemic last year. This latest song/vid was shot in Atlanta a year after dude & his crew were stuck in Miami during the first lockdown.
La Vida Boheme – Fr€€$$r
Last year saw the quartet from Caracas (long since based in CDMX) release nearly a half-dozen tracks that were ultimately compiled into the EP titled Fr€€$$r. The album shows off the group’s range and the sonic territory they’ve covered since their debut. The album is also the first in a planned release of trilogy of EPs
The band also unveiled a 40-minute concert film titled Tiempo Compartido composed of live & alternate versions of seven songs from their repertoire:
Mexican Institute Of Sound – Distrito Federal
This latest work by Camilo Lara, head honcho creative of M.I.S., is an ode and soundtrack to Ciudad Mexico (Mexico City) formerly known as the Distrito Federal; hence the album title. Speaking of which, y’all ever eaten a pambazo? I recommend ’em!
Below is the lyric video to “Se Compran,” the opening track on the album:
I also recommend listening to the interview between Lara and Felix Contreras at Alt. Latino.
Miki Gonzalez – ZAP XXXX
a.k.a. Juan Manuel González Mascías. This guy has a long history recording and performing music that began in the rock scene in the 1980s. He started blending electronic music with Andean & Afro-Peruvian music in the mid-aughts & hasn’t stopped since (this track a case in point!).
Mogwai – As The Love Continues
The Scottish (mostly) instrumental rock band is back with As The Love Continues. The album arrives on the band’s 25th anniversary.
The best/easiest way to get acquiainted with the group (besides diving headfirst into their discography) is to read Andrew Parks’ retrospective piece on the band: A Guide to 25 Years of Mogwai.
“They aren’t always meant to be funny,” explains Braithwaite. “More random than anything else. I think being Scottish, we have a real aversion to pretentiousness, and it’s so easy to slip into that realm making instrumental music. We’ve always been wary of doing that. I think after a while people stop thinking about the words in song titles and just think of the song itself. I do anyway.”
Watch the video for single “Ritchie Sacramento” below:
Vudufa – South American Loa
Vudufa is the other musical project of Peruvian Hip-Hop duo Pounda & Nomodico who are continuing in the new tradition of Cumbia Darks aka Afro-Peruvian Dark Electronic Cumbia (a mouthful if there were ever one!) in the vein of Dengue Dengue Dengue, Animal Chuki, Deltratron, Tribilin Sound, & others.
Math-rock is back…or it never left? I honestly don’t know but I’m always happy to listen to some new math-rock. Such is the case with “Desierto,” the latest song by Peruvian group Wanderlust. It’s an uplifting anthem written specifically for these times. Listen & feel your anxiety float away!