As a community, we Mexican-Americans and Chicanos are severely lacking in present-day musical role models. Though the issue of inadequate representation is prevalent among most POC communities in the U.S., it’s still really disheartening to realize your most iconic pop stars have been dead for generations. Only Ritchie Valens and Selena immediately come to mind as having reached true demigod status, entering the universal canon at once through their music, the silver screen, and in glittery Tumblr pages the web over. Maybe that scarcity explains why this generation of mostly Chicano, mostly Generation Z musicians popping up in Southern California and MexAm-dominated cities across the U.S. seems so new – almost revolutionary, even if isn’t really all that novel in sonic terms.

In one sense – these artists, which include the likes of scene standout Cuco, and newcomers like Omar Apollo – are a Spanglish update on chillwave or hypnagogic popa contemporary take on psychedelia that’s defined much of indie music for the better part of the 2000s. The earliest incarnations of the sound delved deep into sonic experimentation and all-around weirdness (see: LA Vampires or James Ferraro) and were lo-fi to the point of being abrasive, like Ariel Pink before Before Today. But the genre did evolve into more mellow, radio-friendly jams like those of Toro y Moi or Neon Indian, and more recently, the slacker rock of Mac DeMarco and his five-panel hat-wearing cohorts.

But what some refer to as the “Chicano soul wave” of today might share a deeper genealogy with Chicano rock, or better still, Brown-eyed soul. The latter seems especially fitting as many of these artists take heavy cues from R&B and soul in their music. One could argue about what, if anything, makes the aesthetic especially Chicano, other than the obvious inclusion of Spanish-language lyrics. Yet there is undoubtedly a quality of sentimentality and nostalgia that makes one think of both the oldies that have defined Mexican-American culture since the 60s, and the sort of romantic ballads that soundtracked many a young Chicano’s lackadaisical childhood – everything from Pedro Infante to Los Bukis to Luis Miguel. The artists on this list also share a penchant for the intimate, the overly saccharine yet sincere, and for the most part, an unabashed embrace of their cultural roots. And by and large, they are also solo, independent artists who are embarking on their careers without label support.

This is by no means a comprehensive overview of the sound, but it’s as good a starting point as any. Check out our favorites and a playlist featuring these artists below:

1

Omar Apollo

Omar Apollo seems the most fitting act to kick off this list, as he’s fast becoming one of the most noteworthy names on it. The Indiana-bred musician’s breakthrough hit “{}[]” garnered tens of thousands of views online (just under 90,000 on SoundCloud alone), catapulting him to cult stardom. He has recently been touring heavily, and just debuted an itty-bitty-documentary right here on Remezcla, titled Omar Apollo: Figuring It Out. It centers on the perils of a young man trying to, erm, figure it out…all set against the backdrop of Manhattan’s flashing lights and Brooklyn’s grey avenues, a fitting visual parallel to his music.

2

Katzù Oso

Katzù Oso’s first formal release is aptly titled Pastel, which is exactly the palette that pops into your head when listening to his songs. The young artist from Montebello, California describes his music as the sound of being “young and brown in America,” and has mentioned Spanish-language ballads, along with frizzy-haired goth rockers like The Cure and The Jesus and Mary Chain, among his influences. Yet Oso’s sound is far from brooding, as the sunbeam-gleaming synth riffs and honey-coated vocals make it nearly impossible to feel anything other than utter exuberance. These days, you can find him rubbing shoulders with his south-of-the-border brethren Carla Morrison and Ramona as part of Cósmica’s impressive roster.

3

VICTOR!

VICTOR! has been name-dropped by Katzù Oso as one of his dream collaborators (along with Cuco – duh). Their sounds are a close parallel, as the Chicago-based bard also offers a brand of reverb-drenched, sun-kissed tunes with just the faintest hints of melancholy, offset by bubblegum hooks and licks. Interestingly enough, both of Cervantes’ parents come from a musical background deeply rooted in Mexican popular music, which might account for the seamless transition between Spanish and English vocals, a practice shared with a good deal of the young artist’s peers.

4

Holladay

LA-based Holladay only has a handful of tracks to his name, but his collaboration with Jasper Bones and VICTOR!, “Done Giving Out My Heart” (Tremble),” has already gotten him plays in the hundreds of thousands. His SoundCloud is also a gold mine for fresh finds in the infra digital realm of budding Latinx indie talent, which he regularly touts in his playlists. The queer pop ballad “Una Canción Para Ti y Para Mi (Baby Boy)” flirts with 90s diva vocals, set to an infectious R&B rhythm. A true understated classic.

5

Jasper Bones

Fittingly, Jasper Bones has been compared to Chicano Batman, another group that indulges in this wavy soul sound. Many of the stylistic cues in Bones’ songs are like stripped-down versions of the group’s music, featuring far less riffing and a decidedly more understated swagger. With only three tracks under his belt, he’s surely one of the newcomers of the bunch, but soon to be a wrecking ball in his own right. He will perform alongside a good many artists on the lineup for the mind-bogglingly well-curated festival Tropicalía happening in Long Beach this November.

6

Tatiana Hazel

The term bedroom pop is often haphazardly used to describe this generation of lo-fi musicians, but in Tatiana Hazel’s case, it might actually be the most accurate. The Chicago-based singer, songwriter, and producer spun a career from uploading grainy YouTube videos of her singing in her bedroom with a bright blue acoustic guitar and frosted emo bangs. At this point, her aesthetic is probably one of the most polished on this list, but those humble origins speak to the spontaneous and DIY character of her music-making approach, which can jump from glossy pop anthem to hyper-slick cumbia – without batting an eyelash.

7

Temporex

“Nice Boys” could be the archetypal song of this generation. Its wide-eyed sincerity and lullaby-like synth arpeggiators almost make you see the tears dripping into Joseph Flores’ 100% cotton sweatshirt, as he pines for his lost shorty in this classic nice-guys-finish-last tale. Elsewhere, his tracks veer into similar territory, as with the insomniac “No Sleep,” which is equal parts Mild High Club and Maurice Sendak. Though his tracks barely cross the two-minute mark, their brevity and simple character only add to their charm and effectiveness.

8

Avalon

Avalon is an unexpected addition to this list, as her music is distinct from the rest of the acts here. Yet it feels appropriate, given her independent online rise to fame. Her following has been swelling mostly through SoundCloud and a strong Instagram presence, where she’s dubbed herself a “princesa chicana.” On Spotify, she only has a scant two songs; there’s “deadbeat boy,” a witchy, synth-bathed track that tells a story of despair and empowerment and “downhill together,” an equally downtrodden anti-pop banger. It’s too early to tell where she’ll take the whole thing, but worth putting on your radar.

9

Love Cast

Love Cast is Abner Parra from Hawthorne, California. Something of an outsider in this whole wave, Parra is a grassroots DIY artist. In the past, he’s used GoFundMe to finance his creative endeavors, and the bulk of his productions exist almost solely on SoundCloud, sporting a vaporwavey, acid digital visual style and a matching sound that’s he’s tagged #DreamFunk. Still, his productions only seem to be gaining more polish with time, with a psychedelic pop sound reminiscent of Of Montreal’s best moments.

10

Foilage

Manuel Joseph Walker’s moniker Foilage doesn’t stray too far from the lo-fi love ballad style of his peers, though his songs do tend to evoke the feel of classic indie rock bands. The kicker, of course, is that it’s all his doing, achieving true one man-band status. Walker hails from San Bernardino, California, which, as per his Spotify bio, he denotes is more often associated with a “high crime and poverty rate,” adding an extra layer of pathos to his already melancholy music.

11

Ambar Lucid

The only East Coast artist on this list, Ambar Lucid is of both Mexican and Dominican descent. Her music is light-as-a-feather, which flourishes through its minimal arrangements and spacey, airy vocals. Her sound carries a distinct early 00s throwback feel, and she’s fittingly been compared to grungier, neo-soul acts like Amy Winehouse and Tori Amos. Though she’s only got two songs under her belt (on Spotify, at least), she’s certainly poised to be one of the most promising acts on this list.

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