10 Rock en Español Albums to Listen to Before You Die
4. Chúntaro Radio Poder, El Gran Silencio
Hard to believe now, but there was a time when Monterrey, Mexico was known for something other than its horrific narcowars, and that was its music scene. From the pop-funk of Kinky to the musings of Ely Guerra to the Pink Floyd epics of Zurdok, this was a city that could've been another Manchester, another Mexico City, another Detroit--and the best band of them all was El Gran Silencio. They don't seem as sophisticated as their contemporaries since their music is essentially punk-vallenato-ragamuffin desmadre--but when they had to put down the beers and mota and get intellectual, the cabrones whipped out this album, premised on an imaginary radio station spinning nothing but El Gran Silencio (and featuring actual Monterrey DJs). From here comes their ethos: partying, yes, but also lament, class and race criticism, politics, and reappropriation, all backed by an endless churn that made the couples dance and the men mosh. "Chúntaro Style" takes the title slur and turns it into a defiant chinga tu madre to all the haters, both Mexican and Americans, who want to denigrate the country folk of Mexico. Best live band I ever saw, and you'll never hear a better punk accordion EVER--not even with the Pogues.
3. Amores Perros, Various Artists
The film Amores Perros remains one of the high points of Latin American popular culture, a breathtaking film that announced to the world that Mexico's once-glorious film industry was back, that Latin American directors were worthy of Hollywood, and launched a global fascination with Mexico City that has never gone away. And yet the two-disk soundtrack was better, a glorious pinball across all the big groups of Latin alternative at the time (Cafe Tacuba, Control Machete, Bersuit, Julieta Venegas) and unknowns mixed in with sonidero (Los del Garrote), rock urbano and all other unique-to-el-DF genres and even Celia Cruz (!) that made the album simultaneously pan-American yet chilango. Even better, the album itself was both traditional sountrack (music from the film) and concept album, with the B-side songs written in the theme of amores perros (in other words, the idea that love is a bitch).
And the best song? The banda cover of "Dame El Poder," the Molotov standard that was already angry to begin with, yet in the horns of Banda Espuela de Oro menaces and swaggers in a way that the movimiento alterado pendejos only wish they could. A fabulous primer to the genre, and to 21st-century Latin America.
2. 11 Episodios Sinfónicos, Gustavo Cerati
One of the biggest problems I find in trying to turn gabachos on to rock en español besides the language barrier that so many of the original efforts by the titans of the genre--Caifanes, Cafe Tacuba, Soda Stereo and the like--are Spanish-language ripoffs of the Cure, the Police, Violent Femmes and other New Wave groups. To counter that, I turn them onto this relatively obscure album by a titan of the genre: Gustavo Cerati. He became a legend fronting Soda Stereo, which remains Argentina's most-beloved group, and earned international acclaim with his solo efforts with pensive electronica. This album ("11 Symphonic Episodes") is a greatest hits of his and Soda's career, but now backed by a symphony, and what could've easily been an exercise in pomposity becomes a beautiful, lush production that highlights Cerati's soaring tenor, his gorgeous chords, lyrics--in short, his overall genius.
Take the song featured here, "El Rito" (from Soda Stereo's 1986 Signos), which in its original incarnation sounds like some throwaway played on SiriusXM's First Wave station but in this production has the soaring optimism of Mussorgksy's "Pictures at an Exhibition." Released in 2001, just as Argentina was emerging from its annus horribilis, it also stands as a glorious testament to the indefatigable Argentine spirit and that of Cerati, who has been in a coma since 2010, the king resting.
And now, for número 1, which won't be a big surprise...