2008 was a disappointing year for Latin pop with few releases (and fewer still that were really good). It was much better for rock and alternative music, so I've put the albums I liked in these 3 categories into this list.
Mexico's Julieta Venegas seemed to be everybody's favorite in 2008. Venegas' music has sometimes been called rock, sometimes alternative but what's in a name? Charismatic, approachable and appealing, this is one of the albums that was also released as a DVD. Venegas is not always the best onstage but she does well in the smaller, more intimate setting.
Buika's Nina De Fuego was one of my favorite albums of 2008 although it's not exactly pop, definitely not rock and a stretch to call it alternative. It most closely would be called an album of 'torch music' - but I wanted to make sure to draw attention to it somewhere, so here it is.
Buika fuses Spain's popular copla with jazz, rumba, ranchera (for a start). With a gravely, earthy voice, impeccable timing and inspired interpretations that dig to the heart of the lyrics, this album is standout for 2008.
In the area of Mexican rock, Cafe Tacvba has been making bold, unexpected musical statements for long enough to be considered one of the most durable and innovative of Latin rock bands. Sino is reminiscent of earlier classic rock albums (almost every track seems a tribute to the style of some well-known artist) but these are not covers or pale immitations. Cafe Tacvba makes every song fresh and new.
Pop music coming from tropical Latin countries is immediately recognizable with vallenato, cumbia and bullerengue fused with jazz, R&B and mainstream pop. The most distinctive 'tropi-pop' artists are Colombian and Fonseca is at the top of the list.
Gratitud followed Fonseca's 2006 hit album Corazon but it was not just a different track list with the same old sound. Sure, there was lots of the same type of music as on Corazon but Fonseca reached deeper adding new, unexpected and exciting elements to many of the album's tracks.
Of the few big-name, mainstream pop albums that came out in 2008, Luis Fonsi's Palabras del Silencio was the standout. (Luis Miguel's Complices was a little banal for my taste.)
Fonsi has something to say and a wonderful voice with which to say it; he co-wrote all of the tracks on the album. Palabras del Silencio offers lots of exceptional singles and benefits from guest artists Laura Pausini, Aleks Syntek, David Bisbal and more.
The Pinker Tones are most definitely 'alternative.' Thier electronic pop is wild, fun and surprisingly musical. The tracks on Wild Animals are primarily in English (the group is from Barcelona) and exuberant, sarcastic, insightful and funny which the music underlines in just the right way.
What would we do without Mexican artists? Coming from a long line of performers and trained at Boston's presitigious Berklee College of Music, newcomer Ximena Sarinana's debut album may well be a window into the type of music we'll be hearing more of in the future.
Whether you consider it pop or alternative fused with jazz, the songs on this album are original and compelling.
As the news from 2008 became more and more depressing, I often turned to Mexico's Plastilina Mosh for an uplifting dose of fun. All U Need Is Mosh presents a humerous world view that invariably put me in a good mood.
Infectious music that is a fusion of rock, rap, punk, funk and who knows what else, the lyrics are contemporary, the band tight. Try this on for size if you want to stop singing the blues.
Chambao has called themselves a 'flamenco chillout' band but I don't believe that the label holds true to Con Otro Aire which I would describe as flamenco pop/rock. I say that because the album is full of tunes that are too vibrant and rhythmic for sitting still and chilling out.
But however you label the music in this album, the group is colorful, original as well as full of Mediterranean-influenced instruments. I suppose you could call it 'world' music but that flamenco beat and singing style never lets up so I would just call it 'Latin' and great.