Review: Porter’s Moctezuma

By: Marcelo Báez

At some point in the history of Mexican rock and roll, Porter, the indie band from Guadalajara, Mexico, were poised to take over the musical world. Their debut EP, Donde Los Ponys Pastan, which was released in 2005, made MySpace sensations out of them. Two years later they released Atemahawke, their first LP, and Porter was quickly asked to play Coachella in 2008, a coveted landmark gig–one that other prominent, long-established Mexican bands such as Zoé had not been beckoned for.

But suddenly trouble arose. Due to “creative differences” Juan Son, the singer, decided to leave the band, and in 2009 released his solo effort Mermaid Sashimi. Porter, however, was essentially shelved until 2013, when the band was booked to play Vive Latino, Mexico’s own Coachella-type festival. Before Vive Latino, the reunited band released a new song called “Kiosko” to good reviews, but a few months later they announced they were working on a new album without Son, who was being replaced by one David Velasco.

Moctezuma is the name of said album, and it was released independently a couple of months ago. But here’s the thing: while replacing the lead singer in a popular band is not unheard of (just ask Van Halen) the eccentric, child-voiced Juan Son was a huge part of Porter’s sound, aesthetic and image. Sammy Hagar and David Lee Roth are two easily interchangeable cock rockers, but can Porter simply swap out the crown’s jewels and hope the peasants won’t notice? Well, they can certainly try.

Unsurprisingly, David Velasco sounds a lot like Juan Son. Not quite as rich and powerful, but he can certainly hold his own. And it makes sense for Porter to add a similarly voiced singer to their new compositions because otherwise their back catalog wouldn’t sound right. It’s still a risky and ballsy move since the implementation can also backfire (especially with hardcore Juan Son fans) but at the same time, it’s interesting to hear how much of Porter is made up by its musicians, and how much Juan was bringing to the table.

Afrodita and Porter should hang out since they’re both so inspired by mystical pre-Columbian societies. Moctezuma’s artwork, while quite beautiful, seems lifted from one of Ríus’s cartoons—which is not a bad thing. “Murciélago,” the first song, makes it apparent that the Porter boys have been listening to the Mars Volta; it’s prog rock that speaks of rare birds (quetzal) and the voyages of Christopher Columbus. But on “M Bosque,” the second track, the band goes back to a more conventional Porter sound: pulsating synths, sparse guitars, and big, dramatic choruses.

“Huitzil” was picked as a single and it’s a drum-heavy, euphoric song with gliding double-tracked vocals. If you’re planning to do a special dance for Aztec deities in 2014, it should be done to this song. Boasting a beautiful collection of interwoven melodies, the best track on the record is by far “La China,” a song where the new Porter proves they’re capable of producing truly bewitching sounds without Juan Son’s aid.

Barely eight songs long, Moctezuma is short and sweet. But by the time “Tzunami” and “Palapa” come around, one isn’t left missing the old incarnation of Porter. This iteration of the tapatío band probably won’t skyrocket to success the way it once did almost 10 years ago, but don’t be surprised if they eventually climb their way back to the top either. A few more offerings like Moctezuma to the ancient gods of yesteryear, and Porter will soon reap a magnificent harvest.

LOGISTICS: Porter’s Moctezuma, available here

Marcelo Baéz is a writer, DJ, and musician based in NYC. When he's not producing "Rico Suave" parties, he releases music under P3CULIAR.