The Bronx are a Hardcore Punk band out of Los Angeles. Their latest album, The Bronx, comes on the tail of three previous LPs, all named The Bronx. They also run a (surprisingly great) Mariachi side-project called, well, Mariachi El Bronx, whose releases number Mariachi el Bronx and Mariachi el Bronx, respectively. Bronx Bronx Bronx. Now while we wait for semantic overload to sink in and ruin that word forever, I’ll say straight-up that their latest The Bronx came as a pleasant surprise to me. There’s a problem endemic to reviewing this sort of Punk music, and the oddly non-New-York-based Bronx’s obsession with their own name sort of digs at it: yes there’s the pride, the absolute working-class DIY love of the thing, but there’s also the major caveat that every Punk band sooner or later has to face: the looming threat of repetition. The vastness of the genre, the shadow of the thousands of bands that have come before, very much in the same vein, very much in love with the craft and the raw simplicity that is so often Punk. It’s enough to give a man expectations, and it’s the sort of thing that makes hardcore Punk divisive: it’s either going to fit you like an old, holed glove, or you’re going to reject every part of it like the smelly old sock it basically is. Now that’s not to say that Punk hasn’t exploded creatively over the years – and of course it has, it started creatively – but not every record needs to be David Comes to Life. We can’t dine on genre-pushers like Jane Doe and Chimerical Bombination every day of the week and we don’t have to: there’s always going to be a place for that raw energy, that simplicity. Portraits of working-class pride, desperation, giving in to temptation, empowering oneself through sheer, independent force of will – there’s always going to be a place in Punk for that sort of thing, fueled by a few guys with guitars and drums and one or two that happen to yell a lot. That’s what The Bronx is here to do, and they get that feel right. If reviews of Hardcore Punk are by necessity a little more passion-based, a little less wordy and technical than (my) other reviews can get, well that’s just fine: I liked it.
The Bronx is a straightforward album, and that’d be more of a weakness if they weren’t talented songwriters. The album opens on “The Unholy Hand” and the energy is undeniable; the band’s on fire, there’s a great sense of motion we’ll encounter later on the supremely awakening “Youth Wasted”. “Are you the Antichrist or the Holy Ghost?/Do you wanna die or just come real close?” vocalist Matt Caughthran screams over the chugging riffs below. “The Unholy Hand” drops like a bombshell, and the production is as full and lush as we can ask for this sort of thing – without ever threatening that critical raw charge we love so much in Punk. Turn it up. We’ll hear that razor’s-edge energy again on “Under the Rabbit” where Caughthran gives up the simple and sharp “This is the best life my money can buy!” He’s got a workmanlike dedication to that yell and you’ll become real familiar with it over the following 40 minutes, in all its yelps and strains. Thankfully he’s got the chops and variety to make it work – “Youth Wasted” and “Too Many Devils” have downright sing-along-friendly choruses, and The Bronx is frequently more melodically savvy than I’d come in expecting, even if the lyrics aren’t likely to surprise you. Is it party music? It sure is – whichever songs aren’t about standing up for yourself are about getting through the tough times in between (or failing to), and the album only slows twice: for “Torches” (a vaguely surreal take on the inspirational number, and surprisingly poetic) and “Life Less Ordinary” (the album’s obvious misstep and token slow song, a clean-sung number about feeling weird being the center of attention at a party. Or a rockstar.)
All in all The Bronx a party record, with flashes of sobriety and depression enough to stay relatable in the way so much blue-collar Punk aspires to be. I said it about Monotonix and I’ll say it here: this is music to spill beers and kiss girls to, with a touch more reflection that usual. No moulds are broken; it isn’t complicated and it doesn’t want to be. The argument can be made that there isn’t a ton of depth (a charge we can level at a lot of Hardcore Punk), and I suppose there isn’t, though the flashes of lucidity do much to lift The Bronx above amateur status and there’s an earnestness to their delivery that is, at its best, ruggedly inspiring. They’ve been doing this a while – The Bronx (x4) and Mariachi el Bronx (x2) can all attest to that – and this latest The Bronx certainly fits the canon. Don’t dig too deep, don’t expect a musical magnum opus, but you’ll have fun: The Bronx are a pleasant surprise and a boot in the ass. I bet their shows are a blast.
Reviewed right here the day of its release: February 5th, 2013.
This album is new enough not to actually have any videos. And so enjoy Mariachi El Bronx there in the second slot.