Favorite Latin Alternative CDs- Top 21 (post 1996)

20 Jul

I finally got around to creating a list of my favorite Latin Alternative CDs that I own. Note: This is NOT a list of the best CDs that exist since there are so many other worth being here.

1. Julieta Venegas – Bueninvento (2000)

The genius second child of JV. This CD combined so many weird combinations in every song that it worked in such an abstract manner yet it was still so pop formatted at the same time. . The CD starts out with “Fé” which is a jazz song that almost sounds like elevator music. Then JV launches into “Hoy No Quiero” the ridiculously amazing song that starts with a guitar strum and chords that are hard to describe.  “Casa Abandonada”: Who would have thought to combine an accordion, fuzzy bass, thin strained voice, organs, and odd syncopated time signatures resembling a tango in one song? “Flor” is another song worth mentioning due to its rhythmic organ and sliding vocals (she goes up fast then down fast). And that syncopated jazz drum! “Bueninvento” is another rhythmic song filled with organs/synthisizers. This song slowly crescendos and builds intensity. Just when you think it’s going to get more intense, the song is over. It leaves you wanting more! “Instantanea” is about taking a picture. Really? She used those crazy guitar chords and strums for a song about taking a picture. Cool.

Julieta’s trademark voice is clearly defined in this piece of art. She doesn’t sing in tune and her voice has a raspy feel- like if she had a cold (check “Bueninvento” when she pronounces her deep “ah”s every other line).

It’s been about 10 years since I first heard this CD and each time I listen to it, I get caught in the admiration and the level of creativity that went into this CD.  Julieta is, at this point in time, a pioneer for women in rock.



2. Quetzal- Worksongs (2003)

Oh how Quetzal has taken my musical soul and run with it! Unlike Julieta who created pop/avant guarde perfection in each of her CD’s, Quetzal stuck to their roots and created a genre of their own. They chose to stay and focus on the local; what is in front of them. Martha Gonzalez’s voice is as perfect as it will ever sound. The combination of jaranas, electronic grooves, world percussion, African beats, cumbias, soulful yet modern chords, socially conscious lyrics, melodic violin, samba, and introspect into love and relationships make this the most intense, fusion filled and scholarly CD that I own. Did I mention that Martha is considered the be the Queen of the World Divas because nobody else has classified Quetzal as anything else but “world?”


3. Chetes- Hipnosis (2010)

Gerardo Garza AKA Chetes uses constant time signature changes, syncopated rhythms, his highly melodic voice and a mini symphony full of bassoons, horns and oboes to create another piece of art. Chetes also uses unexpected changes to your “average” song. The “weird” piano in “La Ciencia No Es Exacta” is great proof of this. “Hipnosis” is just what the song title suggests. Chetes uses the key of B flat minor- the saddest key signature in music to convey such a sad yet tranquil feeling of insecurity using the crescendoing orchestra full of violins and harps as a backdrop. Just beautiful! This is a Latin Grammy nominated CD.


4. Chetes- Blanco Facil  (2006)

Chetes again. He is the king of “smart pop.” This CD is filled with average pop/rock songs done with a heavy piano and 60’s rock feel. Oh and don’t forget Chetes’ beautiful melodic voice. “Se Fue El Dolor” is great with its ever changing chords. “El Sonido de Tu Voz” is a mariachi song/bolero filled with flutes and a leading electric guitar line. I tried playing it once, but there were so many chords that I gave up.  Another Latin Grammy nominated CD.


5. Zurdok- Hombre Sintetizador (1998)

Chetes reached a new level of song writing at the age of, what was it, 21 in 1997? The hypnotic opening track that combines a voice synthesizer, harp,  mini-string orchestra and Chetes’ beautifully melodic voice should tell you that this is not your average rock CD. Track #2: “Abre Los Ojos” is one of the hardest rock songs I have ever played. There are so many power chords in this song that it’s difficult to keep up with the guitar parts. Fernando Martz’s voice is deep and beautifully dreamy. There are several “filler” songs that sound like Chetes had a lot of fun with sound effects in the studio. “Si Me Adverti” has a heart pounding climax and “Luna” is a highly underrated 5 minute rock symphony. This is a concept CD that tells a story of a man getting to the moon.



6. Cafe Tacuba- Avalancha de Exitos: (1996)

Better than Re? Yes, simply the songs in this CD have a deeper meaning and connection with the listener. The amazing play in chilango-isms  in “Chilanga Banda” along with the voice ornamentations that emphasize the song lyrics in “Alarmala de Tos” is superb. A cover of the all girl 80’s group Flans? Yup! A cover of Juan Luis Guerra’s “Ojala Que Llueva Café” with a son jarocho feel? Yup as well.


7. El Otro Yo- Contagiandose la Energia del Otro (2000)

Where did these pibes come from? Christian Aldana’s voice is reminiscent of a Kurt Cobain mixed with a Billy Corgan. It’s a unique one of a kind voice that is perfect for the rock/punk mix of EOY. Combined with Aldana’s catchy punk anthems blended with Maria Fernanda’s melodic backup vocals, Ray’s phenomenal drumming, and their sound effects crew EOY is packed with songs worth listening to. Put it to you this way:  Molotov covers EOY songs. And this CD is recorded live.


8. Natalia Lafourcade- self titled (2003)

Where did this spunky 18 year old come out of? From the heels of Julieta Venegas’ success came this CD filled with Bjork like chords and witty lyrics like in “En el 2000” and “Te Quiero Dar.” Poppy enough to gain fans yet well written and created by Lafourcade herself.


9. Natalia Lafourcade-Hu huhu (2009)

Natalia’s creatively abstract side accompanied by an orchestra filled world comes to life. Sometimes too abstract, Natalia manages to make sure she still appeals to her pop-pier fans with songs like “Ella es Bonita” and “Azul.”


10. Zoe- Memorex Comander y el Corazon de la Via Lactea (2006)

Its hard to chose one Zoe CD, but this one is it for me although Rocanlover is really close by. “Via Lactea” and “No Me Destruyas” are obviously winners. Their imprint in Mexico’s rock scene was secured with this album.


11. Pastilla- Vox Electra (1998)

Why is this CD not any higher on my list? Highly influential, but not the best for me. The brit-pop feel of this CD is marvelous and the songs have deep melancholic meanings. “Mortal” and “Solamente Una Vez” are great examples. “Tatu” is a unique song that I can’t seem to put my finger on describing.


12. Jumbo – Restaurant (2000)

Easily one of the few CDs I can listen to from top to bottom. “Monotransistor” and “Siento Que” are quite memorable. It took me a while to figure out how to tap my foot to “Monotransistor.” Oh and they’re great eye candy too.


13. Los Aterciopelados- El Dorado (1995)

Colombian rockers with a slight grunge yet latin rhythmic feel. Not to mention Andrea Echeverri’s voice is so deep and powerful that people sometimes asked if that was a man or woman singing. “Florecita Rockera” is a rock legend and should be known by all rockero/as.

14. Ximena Sariñana- Mediocre (2008)

A jazz CD at its core filled with Ximena’s uber depressing songs. Awesome. Standouts: “Mediocre,” “No Vuelvo Mas” “Sintiendo Rara” and “Gris.”

15. Bebe- Pafuera Telerañas (2005)

She took over the Latin Grammy’s with 5 nominations and with her intense performance of “Malo” and other female empowerment songs. The rest of this CD is filled with explicit and sensual lyrics delivered in such a peaceful manner like “Como Los Olivos” and “Ella”. Her unique voice makes her standout yet she is able to woo anyone who listens to her.

16. Volovan- Self Titled (2002)

Melodically written and filled with choruses that are easy to remember. Pop/rock genius. My favorite “Ella es Azul” and “Flor Primaveral.”

17. Hello Seahorse! – Bestia (2011)

Sporting a darker more confessional side than their previous CDs, HS! struck gold with their title song “Bestia.” They nailed it with “Criminal” and even landed a guest backup vocalist with Chetes in “Siberia.” Lo Blondo’s opera surrealist vocals were beginning to blossom in this CD. Their best one so far.

18. Ana Tijoux – La Bala (2012)

The best female rapper in the Latin Alternative world. She can go from being melodic and memorable ala Julieta Venegas to being a machine gun spitting rapper filled with loungy beats.

19. Molotov- Donde Jugaran las Niñas? (1997)

The band was censored and targeted by the Mexican government for daring to criticize it. How dare they! They are Mexico’s answer to RATM with a wittier, more vulgar and more direct approach. I wrote at least 2 papers on this CD while I was in college specifically on “Que No Te Haga Bobo Jacobo?” “Voto Latino” and “Give me the Power.” Keep in mind that the title of the CD is also making fun of Mana’s “Donde Jugaran Los Niños.?” Score!

20. Ozomatli- Embrace the Chaos (2001)

Cumbia, socially conscious rap, hip hop, samba, and latin jazz and banda are covered here. Well executed fusion CD that shows what Ozomatli is truly about. My favorites: “Dos Cosas Ciertas” “Palante” and “Mi Alma”

21. Porter- Donde Los Ponys Pastan (2008)

Anyone who hears Juan Son’s voice immediately asks: guy or girl? Regardless, he can still deliver songs with his ethereal voice and create climactic and even anti-climactic songs. It’s dark, experimental, odd, yet it seems to work. Even for Radiohead, Bjork and company this is an odd album. The best song “Espiral” with its buildup and the ending of “Bipolar.”


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