The Bronx’s second self-titled album comes after a long silence—following-up their ear-shredding 2003 debut, it seems, was a tougher job than thought. The band scored themselves a record deal with Island, though, and recorded this effort in an old methodone clinic, an appropriate venue for hardcore punk/metal shenanigans. But the biggest surprise on The Bronx is not the band’s aggression, however, but a new-found melodic peacefulness.
Most of the press around The Bronx (or The Bronx II as it’s being dubbed) predictably centers around the underground-band-turned-major-label-sellout aspect, and it’s true the band uses their White Drugs imprint as a nominal moniker for the whole Island machine. But the new album doesn’t come across as toned down in any real sense. Though there’s a good deal more calm and melodic material than on their first record, the group somehow manages to communicate that this is just what the band wants, no contract-forced idea. Still, it downgrades the disc from Most Searing of the Summer to just another heavy punk/occasionally mellow release.
This CD is made up of mostly short assaults on the ears in doses of a couple of minutes at a time: the one minute of “Small Stone”, the two and a half of “Three Dead Sisters” who are going “straight to hell”. But in between there are a surprising number of calmer, more melodic moments. “Ocean’s Class” has some of the drunken sea shanty quality of the Drones and a chorus that’s almost sing-along-quality. “White Guilt” sums up the band’s hate/love/hate relationship with their hometown in a poppy rock number full of disillusionment. And the blues lick “Dirty Leaves” is a great rock moment, all shambling cymbals and a gorgeous, classic blues melody. Even upbeat numbers often chug along with a heartier rock vibe than hardcore scream-fest. On “Shitty Future”, the group allows an elaborate bass figure to propel basic 4/4 heavy rock, with agro vocals that are still eminently understandable. Of course, the lyrics are full of depressed pessimism: “Slit wrists are the latest fashion… here comes your shitty future”.
Then there are the experimental elements pushed further into the forefront. Opener “Senor Hombre De Tamale” is a soft chant opening with a twisted parody of the “Star Spangled Banner” beneath, echoing and weird. It’s all disembodied calm reminiscent of Mars Volta, with only a hint of feedback to hint at the mayhem to come, and doesn’t fit well with the rest of the disc.
Throughout, vocalist Matt Caughthran seems determined to showcase every capability of his resilient voice, from the all-out scream that propels the freak-punk moments to a raspy, rhythmic chant, to full-on melodic choruses. In general, he is an effective vocalist, if not quite conveying the drunken filth of the Drones’ Gareth Liddiard.
Though they were born out of the fierce West Coast punk of Black Flag, the Bronx have shown us on the second The Bronx that they are comfortable extending that legacy to a more mainstream conception of song structure and melody. Though strangled, held-out screams often propel this aggressive music forward, the most successful moments are straighter rock, and the band has commendably faced that reality head on. Somehow, in the midst of all this, they’ve managed to hold onto the sense of independence and disaffection that characterizes any self-respecting punk release.