Along for the Ride...
Along with the fearless Fucked Up, the Bronx have shown themselves to be a band that straight-up refuse to be tied to the limitations of punk/hardcore, and who now essentially exist as two separate entities; one that thrives on dirt-caked punk ’n’ blues, and the other, a traditional mariachi band known as Mariachi El Bronx. Musically, both projects are at polar opposites of the sonic-spectrum, but such artistic diversity provides a necessary distraction that keeps each style of music exciting for the band, with Matt Caughthran’s voice—think Black Francis of the Pixies raised on Black Flag and Minor Threat—being the common ground between the two; albeit in a suitably toned down state for Mariachi El Bronx.
Of course, not every fan of the “heavier side” of the Bronx is going to get (or like) the mariachi side, and vice versa. However, having that project as a means to satisfy an urge to flex a collective musical muscle can only have a positive influence on the other project. In recent years, it seems that mariachi has been the priority and the more artistically rewarding venture for the band, as two Mariachi El Bronx records have been released since 2008’s The Bronx III—the last “heavy” Bronx studio effort. But to believe that the Bronx, whose current line-up consists of the above-mentioned Caughthran on vocals, Joby J. Ford and Ken Horne on guitars, Brad Magers on bass, and Jorma Vik on drums, would betray their roots would be foolish (in any event, starting a mariachi group is the most punk-rock thing they have ever done!), and the band’s latest effort, The Bronx IV, stands as a confirmation of this.
Anyone familiar with the Bronx knows exactly what they are going to get when the band remove the Mariachi outfits—rollicking, blues-based punk rock with Caughthran’s venomous vocals spitting tales. The Bronx have yet to release a bad record and the band’s latest self-titled is no different. In fact if anything, the band’s song-writing is stronger than ever; “The Unholy Hand” being the first indication of what is in store, with Caughthran on fine form firing off lines as effective as, “Are you the Antichrist or the Holy Ghost?/ Do you wanna die or just come real close?” It’s a ballsy start that carries through to the sunburnt grooves of “Along for the Ride” and the L.A. sleaze of “Wasted Youth””, a song that sounds about as sanitary as broken needle in a full toilet bowl.
“Style Over Everything” and “Too Many Devils” hark back the band’s formative days, but there is a maturity to the chorus hooks that the songs on The Bronx I-II were missing. Saying that, Caughthran’s vitriol when screaming, “Inside my house I shoot to kill, I don’t fuck around!” during the former and, “I’ve got too many Devils!” on the latter hasn’t waned in the slightest. It’s this mix of maturity and tenacity that makes The Bronx IV so good, and when sweat and endorphins meet on the Andrew W.K. worthy “Pilot Light” and the rush of prime Weezer heard on “Torches”, the Bronx possess and render movements involuntary. The remaining songs have the same effect, whether it is the turbulent rhythms of “Ribcage”, the pissed-off chord progressions that increase temperatures on “Valley Heat”, or the premature hangover which hits a song from the end on when Caughthran, accompanied solely by guitars, welcomes us to his masquerade during the overcast “Life Less Ordinary”.
Mercifully, the Bronx decline to opportunity to leave us on a downbeat note and “Last Revelation” returns to business, rounding off 35 minutes of rip-roaring, adrenaline-burning rock ’n’ roll. Whether the band return to the mariachi next is no cause for concern—The Bronx IV is enough evidence that these guys show no signs of easing off the aggression accelerator any time soon.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.