With mainstream crossovers, blockbuster collabs, thoughtful snapshots of a world in chaos, and career-defining works of liberation and empowerment, 2019 has been a truly remarkable year for artists from Latin America, Spain, and Latinxs in the US. But in the overwhelming wave of high profile releases, a lot of excellent work gets drowned out, often depriving artists of well-deserved attention for some of their own career milestones.
To clue you in on some excellent music you might have missed, we’ve put together a list of 15 records from the first half of 2019 worthy of your summer playlists. From infectiously delightful synth-pop, to avant-garde ambient, and forward-thinking roots music, these artists represent the extensive wealth of talent that lies beyond Spotify algorithms and millions of YouTube plays. No shade to the mainstream, but underground artists need your support, too.
Mabe Fratti - 'Pies Sobre La Tierra'
Back in May, Guatemalan cellist and singer Mabe Fratti quietly dropped one of her most stunning records to date. On Pies Sobre La Tierra, Fratti layers complex melodies and unusual percussion patterns with little more than her cello, while soaring vocals and a few sparse features from Concepción Huerta, and Mito del Desierto make for a gauzy, ethereal and devilishly immersive listening experience.
Silva de Alegría - 'Guerra en la Primavera del Sonido'
A whimsical breeze of banjo-driven folk-pop, Silva de Alegría’s latest album Primavera en la Guerra del Sonido is a delightful musical fantasy akin to a children’s storybook – complete with cheeky voice-overs, baroque melodies and Dr. Seuss-esque cover art.
Milton James - 'Pop Barroco'
Less than a year after Dënver’s untimely disbandment, the Chilean indie pop trailblazer has released two fabulously seductive EPs of chamber pop and early aughts-flavored alt-rock, all ahead of his upcoming album, Pretemporada. The best possible introduction to this new musical era is Pop Barroco, his first post-Dënver release, where baroque string arrangements unfold over a three-song journey starting with disco anthem “6.6” and closing with the sublime chaos of “Tanta Devastación.”
La Bruja de Texcoco – 'De Brujas, Peteneras y Chachalacas'
As if by magic and after years of cutting her teeth in Mexico City’s artsy underground, La Bruja de Texcoco is finally getting her due, largely thanks to her phenomenal debut EP De Brujas, Peteneras y Chcachalacas. La Bruja has cooked up a musical feast for our listening pleasure, crafting boleros and huapangos loaded with guitar, violin, harp, and accordion – all of which she performs herself – while her soothing baritone on songs like “Balajú” and “Suite Aquelarre” sweeps the listener away into a Xochimilco daydream.
Hidrogenesse - 'Joterías Bobas'
Catalonian pop surrealists Hidrogenesse have grown exhausted with the hate and sadness polluting minds around the world, so instead of raging against that pain, they went into the studio and crafted what they call “musical balms.” Joterías Bobas is a collection of 12 kooky songs aimed to produce smiles and hip shaking, highlighting life’s beautiful absurdities with lyrics about flowers, broken synthesizers, and Grace Jones.
iLe – 'Almadura'
Getting out from under the long and daunting shadow of Calle 13 would be nearly impossible for most, but iLe’s rich and complex solo work has cemented her status as one of today’s most exciting and essential pop voices. Almadura is a love letter to iLe’s native Puerto Rico, albeit fueled by pain and uneasiness, drawing from mambo and bomba as she dissects ongoing struggles of economic disparity, violence against women, and political corruption.
Esteman – 'Amor Libre'
Personal truth is a common source of inspiration for artists, but seldom are the journeys as joyful as Esteman’s Amor Libre cycle. With songs and videos celebrating his path to loving openly and freely as a gay man, this year the Colombian theater geek turned pop star delivered an album rife with Pride anthems (“Amor Libre,” “Noche Sensorial”), break up healing elixirs (“Fuimos Amor”), and eyebrow-raising musical fusions (“Solo,” “On Top”).
Belafonte Sensacional - 'Soy Piedra'
Possibly the most riveting live band in Mexico right now, Belafonte Sensacional took a giant sonic leap this year, pushing past the folk and punk influences of their earlier releases, and embracing atmospheric production for their moody manifesto Soy Piedra. While lead single “Epic Aris” made it abundantly clear we weren’t in Tepito anymore, rowdier cuts like “Sácate A La Carretera” and “Oh Sh*t Oh F*ck” reassured fans the band hadn’t strayed too far from the sound that made them local cult heroes.
Edgar Mondragón - 'Nova'
It’s not always easy for avant-garde musicians to create work that doesn’t sound repetitive or referential to previous releases, but Edgar Mondragón managed to lead us into original and deeply engaging new waters with his latest EP, Nova. Subtle yet danceable, atmospheric yet clearly defined, Nova is a newly minted gem of Mexican ambient, and some of Mondragón’s best solo work to date.
Liniker e os Caramelows - 'Goela Abaixo'
Three years ago, when Liniker e os Caramelows broke out with their viral hit “Zero,” it was the dawning of a new age of Black and trans visibility in the Brazilian mainstream. Following up years of critical acclaim and incessant touring proved challenging, but sophomore album Goela Abaixo rises to the occasion, diving deeper into the R&B and soul roots the band calls home. Standout cuts “Calmô” and “De Ontem” showcase the band’s extensive influences, ranging from Elza Soares to SZA, while never losing sight of their own sonic signature.
NOIA - 'CRISÁLIDA'
Brooklyn-based Catalonian chanteuse NOIA left jaws agape this year with the exquisite follow up to her already impressive 2016 debut EP, Habits. CRISÁLIDA follows NOIA into the ever-tangled depths of her melancholy and meticulous beat making, offering up four-songs dripping with hurt, catharsis, and just enough bass to keep you bouncing throughout.
Vicente García – 'Candela'
Modernizing traditional sounds will always make one the target of purist ire, but Vicente García’s musical process is so thorough and thoughtful you’d be hard pressed to find something to rage about. Candela follows up the dizzying sonic collage of last year’s Trending Tropics crossover with Calle 13’s Eduardo Cabra, with García returning to the merengue and bachata explorations that made him a star. But Candela is all about the subtle details; a distant synth on “La Tambora,” a 37-second palo prayer in “Murió con Flores,” an R&B-flavored bachata in “Ahí Ahí.” Vicente García once again proves it’s possible to be original without reinventing the wheel.
Valgur - 'Zapandú'
Vampire synth-pop from Oaxaca? Why not? Valgur’s glossy debut album Zapandú is filled with effervescent nuggets and retro production flairs reminiscent of classic anime and video game soundtracks. From the post-punk urgency of “Infancias Trágicas” to the saccharine delight of “Vampiro,” and the head-turning Zapotec verses of “Rogelia,” Valgur will have you marveling, dancing and hitting high notes all summer long.
F5 - 'Surco'
Uruguayan producer Lechuga Zafiro has long been a Remezcla favorite thanks to exciting and challenging releases with globally renowned dance music collectives such as NAAFI, HiedraH and Salviatek. But in an unexpected digital-meets-analog twist, the producer linked up with candombé drummers Santiago Marrero, Juan Campodonico and Lucas Roberto for a new project called F5, presenting the world with a heart-pounding two-track EP called Surco – where malevolent club sounds collide with Afro-diasporic musical traditions in spectacular fashion.
Soy Emilia - 'Reconstrucción'
There is something deeply satisfying about Soy Emilia’s debut album, Reconstrucción, and it may just be the fact it’s been several years in the making. Stepping into the long-expectant spotlight, Soy Emilia has invited a fleet of friends along for the ride. Highlights include Javier Arce, Cero39 and Medio Picky – reveling in this sweet and powerful record about crashing, burning and starting anew, stronger than ever before.