What once was considered alternative in the 80’s and 90’s is now pretty mainstream, and by that I mean a lot of the non-pop Latin acts of the decade, later labeled as Rock en Español acts, the likes of Caifanes, Maldita Vecindad, Ely Guerra, El Tri, Soda Stereo, Alaska y Dinarama and Café Tacuba.
Latin Alternative music as I understand it and hereby define, is all the new wave of music that does not conform to the constraints of whatever is in vogue, whether it is pop music, rock or even hip-hop. I think that for a Latin artist or any music artist for that matter, to be considered an Alternative act, really needs to step out of the collective box of what we know and recognize as common place and take us to that “aha moment, that element of surprise and intrigue, pretty much like Café Tacuba did in their time, or Fangoria continues to do in the electronic pop scene. But let’s not go too far, many Mexican contemporary acts have done just that, think Plastilina Mosh, Kinky, Nortec Collective and even MIS (Mexican Institute of Sound).
The point is that in order to stay alternative, you can’t conform or remain formulaic, because as in most any genre, it becomes cyclical and expected, and by its very nature, the norm; does Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Green Day, Amy Winehouse or even Adele, who was initially only played in public radio (KCRW in Los Angeles) here in the U.S. when commercial radio wasn’t even giving her the light of day, ring any bells?
So, Latin Alternative music is no different than its English counterpart, and recently has been experiencing a rise in new talent giving lots of “aha” moments or just some plain out genius acts, such as Max Capote, whom I wrote about recently.
The following are just a few of the hot new acts spreading like wild fire in the Latin Alternative music scene, and who should not go unnoticed. Oh, and they’re all Mexican, so if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!
You may know her as a Latin Alternative vixen, but this young Mexican started her career in acting in Mexico, starring in a string of telenovelas such as Luz Clarita, Maria Isabel and Gotita de Amor, and films with her director/producer father Fernando Sariñana, where she usually played the spoiled “fresa” brat in films such as “Amar Te Duele,” “Niñas Mal,” and “Dos Pasos,” to name a few. But her big breakthrough in music came with the release of her debut studio album “Mediocre” in 2008, which had gems such as Normal, Vidas Paralelas, La Tina and No Vuelvo Mas.
Critically acclaimed for her first studio album, Ximena became the new face and darling of the Mexican Alternative sound, which rivaled her counterparts in the UK and the U.S. But Ximena was destined for a greater audience and well deserving of the mainstream spotlight, and as such, her label commissioned her to release her sophmore effort in English, and in 2011 her self titled album was released in North America. The first single Different, is a fast tempo psychodelic and groovy tune that just reminds you of how fun it is to be “from a different world.” Other hot tracks that should not be missed include Shine Down, Echo Park, Love Again, Wrong Miracle, and the only Spanish track Tu y Yo. The world has yet to discover this latest Mexican export, and she is hotter than “un chile habanero,” so if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen, ‘cause this girl will burn you, but in a hot & spicy way!
She’s A Tease
Again, another hot band from Mexico. Now, while I don’t know much about them, I heard them on an alternative radio station in Los Angeles, specifically KCRW 89.9 FM. They record in both English and Spanish and have a very cool 80’s retro sound comprised of synthpop and electro rock jams. The 4 piece band is from Monterrey, Mexico and it seems like they are a quintisential representation of the new Latin Alternative sound, which is bilingual, and they swing from one language to the other with the same ease a skateborder will manifest his prowess in the ramps and steps of the Venice Boardwalk.
“They’re big fans of over-the-top elements like a sassy sax solo, a shimmery sound effect, a touch of Bee Gees-style funk. Then they like to throw in some growling guitar riffs, and voilá, you can’t get them out of your head. It’s hard to have an attitude around stuff like that, especially when they roll it out with such conviction. It’s hard to hold still. No wonder the boys are favorites in their home city and quickly making waves beyond. Their heart-string-tugging single “Datos Intimos” caused a stir in 2009 and their recent debut album Millionaria has been greeted with sheer glee. And, with enticing tracks in both English and Spanish, the joy is sure to spread far and wide,” wrote Toksala on MTV Iggy
For a much better and detailed review on these guys check out MTV’s Iggy page to see their take on She’s a Tease.
Another Mexican alternative pop band, very much a la Jimena Xariñana, and with a sound very reminiscent of L.A.’s own Los Abandoned, Hello Seahorse offers an eclectic mix of some crazy, hot tracks in both English and Spanish dealing with surrealistic and funky themes, that at the end of the day are plain out fun and like they say “simple things make me feel so good.”
One of the things that makes this band stand out has to be lead vocalist Denise Gutierrez’s psyhcodelic vocals and her ability to make you feel giddy. The album, which introduced me to them was Hoy a las ocho, which was launched in the U.S. in 2009. So, if you need a point of reference, at least their track Bestia reminded me of their fellow Mexican bretheren Zoé, who alone, require their own piece in the Mexican alternative scene. Hot tracks on Hoy a las ocho include: OK!…Lobster, Won’t Say Anything and No encontré nada and Atardecer en Parapent .
And last but definitely not least, is the Baja California native Carla Morrison, of whom I know the least, but was highly recommended to me by my good friend at Billboard, Justino Aguila, who actually interviewed her and I felt his piece would do Carla more justice than me basing a review on her masterpiece Déjenme Llorar, which is the first single from her album with same name.
So if you thought that Mexico was only able to serve Mariachi, telenovelas, tacos and tamales, well, you’re in for a big surprise when you discover that some of the hottest Latin Alternative sounds are coming straight out of our back yard in Mexico, and up to par with any English-speaking band from anywhere in the world. Bilingual and bicultural is the new wave, and I think all these artists get the reality of our ever smaller and changing planet. Vivan los alternativos, long live the out of the box thinkers.