Indie rock meets Latin influences
Mujeres is the fifth studio album by Portland-based Y La Bamba. The follow-up to 2016’s Ojos Del Sol is a remarkably strong effort, putting forth a collection of songs that perfectly represent the band’s eclectic and varied influences. One of the more musically dynamic and engaging albums in recent memory, Mujeres is worth a listen.
The album opens with “My Death,” an atmospheric tune carried by an array of vocal harmonies matched by a simple yet elegant chord progression. The multilayered guitar tracks and frontwoman Luz Elena Mendoza’s excellent vocals combine for a rich tonal range. At times throughout Mujeres, the use of heavy vocal reverb makes Mendoza’s lyrics indecipherable, though this is rare, and the effect is a key element of Y La Bamba’s sound.
“Real Talk” puts a quaint acoustic guitar riff against ambient white noise, giving the effect of sitting outside and listening to a friend sing you a song.
As the album progresses, Y La Bamba dive further and further into their Latin influences. This shift becomes most notable on “Cuatro Crazy” and “Conocidos.” The rhythm section specifically begins to take center stage as the core of Y La Bamba’s distinctive sound. The band’s use of Latin jazz beats gives the songs a swing feel, and the bass lines occupy the perfect space between holding time and taking on a more melodic role.
This is particularly noticeable on “Boca Llena,” as its meandering, foot-tapping bass groove is the linchpin of the song. Y La Bamba’s Latin influences come fully to fruition in the album’s title track, a catchy tune built around a pulsing floor tom beat and powerful lyricism. Per NPR, “This song was written last year after having one too many misogynistic experiences with men. This song is for my mother and for all of us women who have and still battle the fight to be heard.”
Though Mendoza’s Mexican folk and Latin jazz roots are the heart of Mujeres, her penchant for writing catchy indie-rock tunes is on full display as well. “Lightning Storms” boasts one of the album’s signature chord progressions. Sonically they are warm and full, going beyond a simple major triad to offer a more complex sound. Tonally, they are engulfed in a sea of reverb and delay, though it’s never overdone. As a result, this is one of the more gripping chord progressions on Mujeres, despite Mendoza simply letting one chord tone ring out over multiple measures.
This less-is-more approach is also apparent in Mendoza’s tasteful lead guitar licks. While she never cuts loose a searing, expressive solo, her use of subtle melodic hooks in songs like “My Death” and “Conocidos” serves those tracks perfectly.
Y La Bamba occupy a unique and almost singular musical space by perfectly melding Latin influences with a modern indie-rock sound. Latin jazz beats and quirky indie lead guitar lines hardly sound like a perfect match in theory, but in practice the results throughout Mujeres are magical.