Well, I certainly didn’t have regional Mexican music achieving a massive surge in popularity to the tune of two songs hanging around in the top 10 and many more threatening to break into the region on my 2023 Bingo card. But despite the renewed interest and modernization of the traditional genre being spurred mostly by the young Peso Pluma, if there was any indication beforehand that this was going to happen, it might have come from the ongoing success of California quartet Eslabon Armado. Still only ranging from 19 to 21 years of age today, the supergroup has been racking up moderate chart success since their Vibras de Noche album in summer 2020. Dropping their latest, DESVELADO, at a highly opportune time as their smash hit “Ella Baila Sola,” which features Pluma, becomes the figurehead of this incredible cultural moment, the sounds of resounding trumpets, accordions, and an upbeat party atmosphere mixed with the yearning, emotional delivery of the group persists throughout. While standing at nearly an hour in length, the project can get highly repetitive, it’s still a breath of fresh air to hear it at the top of the charts.
The track “Quien Es El?” kicks things off with some big band oom-pahs in the back and interlocking, complex plucked guitar parts as frontman Pedro Tovar kicks things off with an anthemic acoustic tune about the anguish of seeing a new guy pop up on a former partner’s social media page. While it’s great to hear the technicality of the instrumental, the group actually placed one of the weaker vocal performances here at the very front. While the laid-back slides into each note can sometimes become part of the charm, it gets a little grating and pitchy here. “Quedate Conmigo” sees the group link up with Grupo Frontera, and of all the voices I’ve been hearing dominating this scene lately, it’s the strong, powerful and emotional tone of Grupo Frontera frontman Payo Solis that’s been my favourite. Despite the experience of his band, it was a surprise to learn that he’s only 19 years of age as well. The track gives us our first taste of the accordion chords, accompanying a blissful love song, and shows how well these two outfits are modernizing the traditional.
“Dame Otro Beso” strips back more of the traditional elements for a sensual guitar-backed jam with a catchy central melody. The instrumental falling away to let a big note ring and the laid-back tone fitting better with this late-night energy are highlights, while the dueling guitar parts in instrumental breaks again highlight the technical abilities on display. “Así Lo Quiso Dios,” on the other hand, previews a sound that gets highly overdone by the album’s end – it’s the bright and speedy brass section puffing away in the mix. Tovar’s yearning, sleepy tone feels like it clashes with what should be an upbeat party atmosphere, the instrumental feeling far too busy as a result – although guest vocalist Luis R Conriquez brings a little more gravitas to match.
A couple of the tracks continue to see someone without the most naturally standout voice continuing to avoid the happy medium where it becomes enjoyable. The track “Termine Sufriendo” goes too far the other way, as Tovar gives us two verses of acoustic sadboi crooning that essentially boil down lyrically to “nice guys finish last,” placing too much of a spotlight on his less-than-stellar vocals. “Tomando Tequila,” on the other hand, finds Tovar contrasted nicely with the more suave and smooth voice of reggaeton star Jhayco as they drink the pain away together, the more somber vibe offset by a speedy guitar part that offers us a break from wallowing away completely – it’s coming to us as a comforting shoulder to cry on in the bar. “Llamarte o Bloquearte” is a fun ear-grabbing diversion with an instrumental made up almost entirely of accordion and a bit of almost reggae and ska energy, but it’s clear to see why “Ella Baila Sola” is such a party staple. As Tovar and Peso Pluma go back and forth about how spellbound they are by the girl that everyone can’t take their eyes off of, it’s the interludes where the trumpet starts taking on a life of its own and the two are simply talking in the background that helps paint the scene even better – and the trumpet near the end is something to behold.
The album’s back half doesn’t give listeners much more in the way of novelty, mostly just running through sounds that we’ve heard before without much in the way of Bad Bunny-style switching it up despite the genre’s adherence to formulae. “Vamos Contra El Mundo” returns to the somber raw acoustics as Tovar sings about the ideal girl, the ghostly backing vocals and the pop-rock vibe reminiscent of a recent Harry Styles track, before the structure of “Mejor Acabar” sounds identical to the opening track and Tovar comes in with a highly similar melody and tone of voice as the prior one. “Nunca Es Suficiente” is the longest track here, which allows Tovar to build up to some peaks where he’s passionately belting in his vocal sweet spot, and comes accompanied with some of the prettiest guitar melodies on the album to back him up, despite the similar, slow acoustic vibes, while you think that the captivatingly smooth vocals of DannyLux would break up the monotony on “Me Deceptionaste,” but the track is a mess of shifting tempos as they bounce back and forth between different kinds of familiarity – there’s another great soloing jam session at the end, though. The final run of tracks doesn’t do much more to help – outside of more wonderful accordion antics during “Hermosura de Mujer” – just making me wish that five or six of the more redundant tunes were cut from the final product.
With the way things are going, it seems like we’re certain to get a kind of crossover success, mass-appeal star that could bring these sounds to even further worldwide acclaim. And while it doesn’t seem like Eslabon Armado will be that voice due to a lack of experimentation, being in the middle of this moment where these teenagers and young adults are taking the world by storm with a style that’s centuries old is very exciting as a music fan – and I’m glad they’re helping get it started.
Favourite Tracks: Quedate Conmigo, Dame Otro Beso, Tomando Tequila, Nunca es Suficiente
Least Favourite Track: Termine Sufriendo