Since I’m a wimp who can’t stand the winters in New Mexico, I decided to treat myself to a little viaje down south of the border for the duration of the cold months. I’m currently writing this from my porch in Oaxaca, Mexico, where the street tacos are plentiful and the street dogs even more so. Since I don’t want to be a totally clueless tourist while I’m here, I’ve been making an attempt to listen to more Mexican musicians, particularly contemporary ones. Expand your horizons with me, Burqueños, and check out some of these great bands from the old country. Oh, and stay warm up there.
Los Fancy Free
Los Fancy Free is a retro rock group that takes cues from La Onda movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s—Mexico’s response to the rock and roll being imported from the UK and America. Singer Martin Thulin made his first solo album Menonita Rock in 2002, a collection of jittery synth songs like “Voltage is OK” that blends electro beats with a punk vibe. That album quickly cemented Thulin’s position as the quirkiest guy in Mexican rock. Thulin moved to Mexico City in his 20s, formed a band and Los Fancy Free has since been releasing psychedelic guitar-driven songs in Spanish and English ever since. Check out their videos for “Voltage is OK” and “Ja Ja Ja” to witness Thulin’s goofballery. Their 2007 album Nevergreens, Vol. 1 is my favorite, but it can be hard to get a hold of, so check out Martin Thulin’s blog to stream it.
Los Fancy Free: “Voltage is OK”
Jessy Bulbo, also based in Mexico City, is the best known female rocker in Mexico. Her 2007 album Saga Mama established her as such with the hits “Mala Respuesta” and “Maldito,” both fast-paced and irreverent garage rock songs. The best bits of this album are when Bulbo veers off the rhythm into grating, ugly vocals and instrumental cacophony, showing off her punk roots. Last year she released her third studio album, Changuemonium, which takes a departure from her previously manic pace with slowed-down love songs, sparsely accompanied with synths beats and some Paul Simon-esque guitars. Both albums are good, but you should definitely start with Saga Mama.
Jessy Bulbo: “Maldito”
Guadalajara-based band Le Butcherettes, founded by singer and guitarist Teri Gender Bender, is a garage punk band that pull from inspirations as diverse as Sleater-Kinney and Björk. They became popular in the Mexican underground punk scene not just for their no-holds-barred noisy live shows and political lyrics, but for their stage antics—Teri was known to wear a bloody apron and bring a pig’s head on stage in her early shows. Their 2011 album Sin Sin Sin is their most popular, and filled with more tongue-in-cheek literary references than any other album I’ve heard, with tracks like “Henry [Miller] Don’t Got Love” and “The Actress That Ate Rousseau.” Their album from last year, A Raw Youth, is more slick and less angry than Sin Sin Sin, but still has some solid tracks like “La Uva” (which features a very pitched-down Iggy Pop singing?!?) and “Shave The Pride.”
Le Butcherettes: Sin Sin Sin
Descartes A Kant
Descartes A Kant is another Guadalajara band with a flair for the dramatic. Their 2012 album Li Visore Lunatique is my favorite, filled with prickly, antagonistic lyrics, by rounds sung sweetly or shouted. They cultivate a cirque-du-freak sound with accordions and clavichords, as well as creepy spoken-word breaks, like that of “You May Kiss the Bride,” “So/ let me get this clear, dear/ the love of your life is married?” You can stream a few of their songs on their website, including their fantastic new cover of Lou Reed’s “New York Telephone Conversation.” Le Butcherettes and Descartes A Kant are the only bands on this list whose songs are strictly in English.
Descartes a Kant: Paper Dolls
The friend who first recommended Café Tacvba to me said, “Listen to a few of their albums before you make a judgement. Each one sounds different.” He was right—and they have a lot of albums to choose from. Their self-titled debut album from 1992 is filled with drum machine-driven dance numbers, more minimal and with a much more compressed sound than their later work. Cuatro Caminos, their album from 2003, is their first with a live drummer, and pulls influences from sources as wide as traditional ranchera music to techno. 2007’s Sino is a dreamy album with a distinctly classic rock sound and plenty of ballads, including the track “53100” which could be a Who B-side (if, you know, The Who ever recorded songs in Spanish.)
Café Tacvba: “Chilanga Banda”
So, as I continue to explore the music of the Southern lands, enjoying warmer than-expected weather, awesome rock and roll and tasty tacos, do yourself a solid and listen to what Mexico has to offer, like I have; it may just help get you through the winter and into spring.