Every year it’s the same thing. These “best-of” lists are a potential can of worms: No matter whom you choose, you always leave a great album out, and chances are furious mobs will be waiting for you around the corner.
For years, trying to come up with a fair list of Best Latin Alternative albums was extra hard, since most of the best Latin albums were not released in the U.S. Now, there’s no excuse. The digital era allows you access to most of the stuff worth listening to, no matter where it is or isn’t released.
But then, the solution created a new problem: How can you keep up with all this shit? All I can do is tell you these are the albums I listened to the most in 2009, in strictly alphabetical order. Hope you enjoy them, too.
Cantares del subdesarrollo
After five years as Panama’s Minister of Tourism, and a few experimental jazz-fusion gems, Blades goes back to basics. Actually, he visits basics for the first time, since this is his first Cuban son album ever. A superb self-distributed, song-oriented labor of love recorded in his house.
Gustavo Cerati(Sony International)
Argentina’s Cerati is the rare case of a solo artist who is able to (at least) equal his band’s success. After seven influential (and huge) albums with Soda Stereo in the ’80s and ’90s, this is his sixth solo work (seventh, if you count the pretentious 11 episodios sinfónicos, in which he recorded his hits with a symphony). The visceral pleasure of Soda Stereo meets the electronic touches of his solo masterpiece Bocanada for another instant classic.
Produced by Manu Chao, this is a unique project between a radio show hosted by mental patients in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the French-born globe-trotter. I could tell you more, but better download it for free at vivalacolifata.org. And don’t be cheap: Leave a donation.
El Cuarteto de Nos(Warner Argent/Zoom)
Uruguay’s Cuarteto de Nos (a band of 40-somethings who have been together since the early ’80s) didn’t invent the wheel. But they exploded (regionally) in 2004 and 2006 with a couple of incredible albums (El Cuarteto de Nos and Raro) that turned their usual bizarre musical jokes into a killer formula: Good production (by Bajofondo’s Juan Campodónico), catchy choruses, irresistible hooks, and arguably the best lyrics in Spanish-language rock. Roberto Musso doesn’t rap: He spits self-deprecating lines that piss on God, country, Alzheimer’s (especially when it happens to your own mother), and anything else that’s sacred. Bipolar continues what started with Raro. No surprises, but the punch is still there.
Hu Hu Hu
Natalia LaFourcade(Sony BMG Mexico)
After two albums with her band La Forquetina, and a solo instrumental EP, Mexico’s LaFourcade breaks loose with her best album. Produced by Café Tacuba’s Emanuel Del Real, Hu Hu Hu confirms LaFourcade’s got one of the most underrated voices in Mexican alternative music. Maybe the fact that she’s tiny and goofy distracts from the fact that she can sing anything and few can touch her songwriting skills. As unpredictable as ever, she turns on a dime just when you think she’s about to embark on a silly love song. Her humor and accessibility are still there, but this (not counting the Las 4 estaciones del amor EP) is her most experimental album yet.
Mercedes Sosa(BMG Argentina)
You can get Cantora 1, Cantora 2, or simply Cantora, a U.S. release of both. The last album by Argentine legend Mercedes Sosa (1935-2009) is a fitting farewell to the greatest voice in Latin American popular music. Even though it recently won a Latin Grammy as Best Folkloric Album (her fifth), the folklore is minimal here — this is a superb album of popular music comprising duets with some of the biggest stars or cult-followed artists in (or out of) the business. The version of “La Maza,” with Shakira, is perhaps the best adaptation of the classic ever recorded by Cuba’s Silvio Rodríguez. And thank God rocker Charly García (after a well-publicized stint at a mental/detox clinic) got well soon enough to record a heavenly version of his disarming “Desarma y sangra,” perhaps improving on his original. But there’s also Cateano Veloso, Jorge Drexler, Julieta Venegas, Joan Manuel Serrat and other artists who lend their varied styles and voices for La Negra’s last time in the studio. If you only get one Sosa album, this is it.
Haih or Amortecedor
The first studio album in 35 years by Brazil’s most influential rock band ever. It takes a while to grab you, but once it does it doesn’t let go.
Vico C(EMI Latin)
Pioneering Puerto Rican rapper Vico C (“The philosopher of rap” ) is sloppy and at times (especially when choosing a chorus) corny, but he has the beat in his soul just like a salsa musician has the clave. Reguetoneros and gangsta rappers beware: Vico C won’t take no crap from you.
Sí para usted Vol. 2, The funky beats of revolutionary Cuba
Various Artists(Waxing Deep/Lita)
Another fun collection of rare soul and funk from the post-Fidel era. Hey, any album that features Los Barba (a popular Cuban band that never recorded an album) and party music by Sonopop (teenage members of the Communist Youth Militia) has my vote.
Brit Pop meets Soda Stereo meets electronica in Mexico’s best rock album of the year. •