Earlier this year, Y La Bamba began a fervent lyrical and sonic shift.
For the past decade, frontwoman Luz Elena Mendoza and her band have played a huge role in Portland's folk scene. Y La Bamba's music has long maintained a steady relationship with traditional folk music and Mendoza's Mexican American roots. But on the two releases the band has put out this year, Mendoza has begun to use the project to express more directly what she's been trying to overcome as a queer Latinx artist in the Pacific Northwest.
In February, Y La Bamba released Mujeres. The album came at a time when the political world was creating an increasingly hostile atmosphere for those falling under many of Mendoza's identities. The album saw her confronting what her immigrant parents must have experienced as they journeyed through the United States as migrant workers.
Mujeres' sister release, Entre los Dos—which Y La Bamba is celebrating with a sold out, two-night long hometown release party this week—might be her biggest reckoning yet.
Translating to "between the two," Entre los Dos shows Mendoza on the other side of a major life decision—the 37-year-old Oregon-raised musician recently relocated to Guadalajara, Mexico. Mendoza uses the seven-song EP to explore introspective topics, including what it's like to be in a new place that also seems so familiar.
The record continually veers away from the slower modes of YLB, and takes on more of a garage-rock feel. There are more experimental riffs, but they play around with surfy tendencies and staccato vocals. As usual, Mendoza's lyrics switch back and forth between English and Spanish, but there's slightly more earnestness in her words. The EP's title track opens with a threat sung contentedly in Spanish—"Y me saltaré de mi ventana," or, "And I will jump out of my window."
The line shows Mendoza reaching a place of further reconciliation and understanding of herself. There are other instances of that type of expression, like on "Rio Sueltos," in which she sings of finding appreciation within herself and the body she was born with. "Los Gritos" takes the body talk further and explains the cleansing power of salt.
Comparisons to the avant folk of Devendra Barnhart-—and Angel Olsen, though Mendoza may be more of an OG to Portlanders—are warranted. But Mendoza's work is heartfelt in a different way. It's not just another album about bad relationships and broken hearts. Entre los Dos is about Mendoza finding the key to her full self and identity. She's no longer stuck in between—she's right where she needs to be.
SEE IT: Y La Bamba plays Doug Fir Lounge, 830 E Burnside St., dougfirlounge.com, with Brown Calculus and Noche Libre, on Thursday, Oct. 24, and Reyna Tropical and Noche Libre, on Friday, Oct. 25. 9 pm. Sold out. 21+.