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.
I had just one other music roundup post this year (it was a hectic year for me!), which you can find here: https://afroxander.com/2021/03/30/currently-listening-to-the-one-year-pandem-aversary-edition/
I hope you enjoy listening to the artists listed below and may 2022 bring us more great music!
Adrian Quesada & Guests – Look at My Soul: The Latin Shade of Texas Soul
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.Adrian Quesada
Diles que no me maten – La Vida De Alguien Más
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.
Dorotheo – Como Es
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.
El Individuo – No Me Mientan
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.
E.VAX – E.VAX
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.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END!
The original score for the Covid era. (among other events)
this record is about all of us waiting for the end…this record is about all of us waiting for the beginning
IIII – IIII
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.
Idles – CRAWLER
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 – Heal
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!
Las Visiones – Cruces de Neón
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.
Mariachi Entertainment System – Hecho En Hyrule
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!
Mengers – GOLLY
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”.
Sistemas Inestables – Oppidum
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.
Sunset Images – Traumatismo Nacional
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.
There’s a lengthier read about the history of the label and making of the album here: https://marvin.com.mx/sonideras-peruanas-un-homenaje-a-mexico/
Zoé – Sonidos de Karmática Resonancia
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!