While 2009 has come and gone, we still find ourselves bumping some of the best songs of the year while we anxiously await what 2010 has in store for us. The Latin alternative genre was alive and well last year, and no one seemed to fair better than L.A.-based Nacional Records. Los Fabulosos Cadillacs returned from a decade-long hiatus and Manu Chao released a tour-de-force of a live album/DVD. But it’s Mexican Institute of Sound and Los Amigos Invisibles who released career-defining records, with Soy Sauce and Comercial, respectively.
In Austin, ’09 was a decent year, though it felt like more of a preview of the awesome year 2010 will be. Brownout released the best local Latin album, and we were presently surprised by El Tule’s sophomore effort, Volumen II, which displayed much growth in musicianship and confidence for the cumbia dance band. Our favorite unsigned locals had demos and singles, but no albums; bands like Maneja Beto, Este Vato and La Guerrilla. We can expect albums from the latter two in the first half of 2010, as well as new Grupo Fantasma some time this year.
Without further ado, here’s our nine favorite songs from ’09.
#1 “Cumbia” by Mexican Institute of Sound
In an interview last year, Camilo Lara described his Mexican Institute of Sound song “Cumbia” as what pop music in Mexico should sound like. It’s hard to argue, given what dance-floor magic this song was in 2009. People went nuts to this song at Austin’s Pachanga Fest last May. This song is ridiculously simple, never down-shifting from high gear. And at 2:17, it’s also super-short. These would normally be knocks against a song, but this is a perfectly crafted two minutes that does what it’s supposed to: make people shake their ass. And this song did that better than any other we heard this year. That’s why “Cumbia” is the best Latin alternative song of 2009 in our book.
#2 “Pasajero (Immigrant’s Lament)” by Monte Negro
Fugitives of Pleasure AND Pasajeros
(Feed The Hungry Records)
Monte Negro is one of the best Latin indie bands around. This Los Angeles quartet elegantly mixes bilingual, multi-cultural substance with artistic, fashion-forward style. Their 2009 self-released EP Fugitives of Pleasure & Pasajeros is a flawless listen. Every track is great, from the six songs to the short segue tracks in between (Deluxe Edition only). But “Pasajero” just squeaks by as the best, thanks to the uptempo anthemic chorus and Jason Li Shing’s signature spacey guitar tones. No one else’s guitar-playing sounds like Shing’s in the indie world. His notes just seem to float off into the ether. Loud and distinct, but feather-light. Meanwhile, Kinski Gallo expresses his poignant and poetic outlook in two languages without it ever sounding contrived or gimmicky. This is the future of rock en español and indie rock.
#3 “Mentiras” by Los Amigos Invisibles
“Mentiras” was the summer party anthem of ’09. Los Amigos have been around for a while, certainly long enough to master the art of kitschy and playful pop music. And what guy hasn’t found himself in the situation described in the lyrics: No, that wasn’t me in those crazy Facebook pictures, Sweetie. And judging by the crowd response at the group’s energy-filled performance at La Zona Rosa this year, we aren’t the only ones who love this song.
#4 “Con el Cuete”by Brownout
Aguilas and Cobras
Brownout doesn’t get vocal often, but when they do, it’s worthing listening to. “Con el Cuete” is the opening track on the local Latin funk group’s near-flawless sophomore album, Aguilas and Cobras. The subject matter of the song deals with their hometown of Laredo and the media’s portrayal of the violence that has plagued its sister city on the other side of the border, Nuevo Laredo. “Cuete” showcases a lean and mean Brownout with a song that mimics a militant war cry—one that, ironically, is anti-war. But in addition to being socially aware, this song is also catchy as hell. The opening bass line and psychedelic riffing get the blood boiling. And that horn section!
#5 “Mundo de Ciegos”by Omar Rodriguez-Lopez
Honestly, we’ve been disappointed by The Mars Volta’s recent output. Octahedron just lacked something. We think that something may have been transplanted into Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s solo collaboration with Ximena Sariñana. Xenophanes was one of six solo albums (six!) that the Volta guitarist/composer released this year, four of which featured Ximena. This album, and this song specifically, has the frenetic magic of early Mars Volta, but sounds fresh, thanks in part to fiery jazz piano by new contributor Mark Aanderud and hauntingly sensual backing vocals by Ms. Sariñana.
#6 “No Messin’ With My Rectum If You Like My Erection” by Arthur Yoria
We give Houston singer-songwriter Arthur Yoria mad points for not being afraid to say what’s on his mind. Sometimes that mind is in the gutter, but honestly this song isn’t one of those times. Dude’s just being honest, ladies. Some of you like to read Cosmo and you get funny ideas. Arthur’s just setting the record straight on behalf of all regular guys out there: No messin’ back there. And he does it with a bubbly pop sheen. Yoria recently moved to Austin, and we’re ecstatic to have someone as talented and depraved as this guy. Read the lyrics and listen to the song on Arthur Yoria’s official website: arthuryoria.com
#7 “I Want You To Want Me” by Los Odio ft. Juan Son
Rudo y Cursi Original Soundtrack
Rock history is filled with examples of cover songs that are better than the originals: Jimi Hendrix’s take on “All Along the Watchtower” outshone Bob Dylan’s. Ike and Tina blew Credence out of the water with their version of “Proud Mary”. One lesser-known example happened this year with the release of the uber-hip soundtrack to the soccer comedy Rudo y Cursi. The allstar group Los Odio (featuring members of Fobia, Molotov and Cafe Tacvba) provided the backing band to Juan Son, whose tormented vocal take on Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me” elevates the song from standard radio-ready kitsch to a true lovelorn powerpop ballad. And halfway in, Los Odio tear it up with an almost-psychedelic breakdown that features thundering percussion and Juan Son’s ethereal voice echoing that famous line: “Didn’t I see you crying.”
#8 “Ofrendas” by Maneja Beto
“Ofrendas” is the first recorded output in a while from Austin’s indie-en-espanol quintet Maneja Beto. The group was on a year-long hiatus but returned during the summer. This track is vintage Maneja, mixing dark and moody tones with a danceable beat. This song sees the group getting its disco on with an infectious synth line and smooth percussion. Can’t wait to see what they do this year.
#9 “Mi Niño” by El Tule
One of our highlights of 2009 was watching Beauty Bar explode into an all-out dance party during El Tule’s closing song, “Mi Nino”, at our end-of-year showcase. This song is straightforward: a celebration of all things that made our childhood fun, like riding a bike and playing with our friends outside. While we dig the sentimentality, it’s the super-fast beat that really makes this song. This song was made for breaking a sweat to.