Band of the Day

2012.04.18

Y La Bamba

A passionate synthesis of orchestral indie and traditional Mexican folk music
I wish for a wishing well, this smoke is the air. I breathe in times of despair.
lyrics from Alida St.

Portland, Oregon indie folk rock group Y La Bamba is made up of Luz Elena Mendoza (Vocals), Paul Cameron (Guitar), Michael Kitson (Percussion), Ben Meyercord (Bass), Eric Schrepel (Accordion), and Scott Arthur Magee (Percussion). Mendoza, who is originally from California, provides the light and airy melodic vocals that dance over the group's instrumentation, which touches on traditional Mexican folk and mariachi music influences, while still remaining true to the indie-folk roots. The group released their first album Alida St in 2008 on Gypsypop Records, and followed it with Lupon in 2010, which was named after Mendoza's father and features a drawing of her grandfather on the cover art. After making the switch to Tender Loving Empire Records, 2012 sees the release of their third full length feature Court The Storm, and a tour in support of the album.

With her lanky frame decorated liberally with tattoos, Y La Bamba singer/chief songwriter Luz Elena Mendoza fits in pretty well with your typical conception of a Portland, Oregon indie rocker. Below the surface, however, she's less archetypal. The daughter of Mexican immigrants who grew up in a strict Catholic household, Y La Bamba's latest album Court The Storm is deeply indebted to the Mexican music Mendoza grew up with as a child. Court The Storm mixes traditional American/British style folk with mariachi music to excellent effect. The combination feels full of textures and life, at times somber, and at times bursting at the seams with sound and energy. At times the Mariachi influence is very much at the forefront. “Michoacan,” presumably named after the Mexican state where Mendoza lived for a time as a child, sounds indisputably south of the border. On a bed of rich flute and subtly festive percussion, Mendoza's Spanish vocals rise to soaring heights that could be matched by Mexican radio stars. “Viuda Encabronada” sounds like a latin Paul Simon with its celebratory drums, accordion and sunny lead guitar. “Como Ratones” is a serenade, the starlight music packed with enough dulce de leche sweet melodies to satisfy any pop fiend. The tone is beautiful melancholy for the most part, but the prancing accordion and latin percussion gives it an uplifting push. “Squawk” is cosmopolitan, genre bending music of the most restless and ear-catching kind. Beginning with skittering acoustic guitar and Appalachian folk-style vocal harmonies, Y La Bamba adds on glittering Afropop guitar riffs and toe-tapping Latin percussion. It's restlessly fun without feeling a bit ADD, a whirlwind mix of music from across time and space smashed together with clear passion and affection.

While the closest parallels to Y La Bamba would probably be Beirut's Mexican experimentations or Tuscon, Arizona collective Calexico, Y La Bamba's music is too unique for any of those comparisons to really hold up. Mendoza instills the heart and soul of the music she grew up into Y La Bamba's newest album, merging it with folk and orchestral indie rock.