Review of Mariachi el Bronx's self-titled album
At first it sounded like an idea as whacked out as Lady GaGa's chastity belt, but now fully realised it all makes sense; LA's The Bronx, indisputably one of the world's finest punk bands, have gone Mariachi. Sure, there's precedent for mucho crossover in the movement's early history, just remember Don Letts spinning roots reggae tunes between bands at the 100 Club. But for an outfit who'd grown almost totally by word of mouth from playing restaurant corridors to the upper reaches of festival line-ups, initially it looked worryingly like creeping self indulgence.
Eternal shame on us then for not believing that there was a) a way to make the change and still be more credible than a truckload Frank Carters b) deliver a record which is still vital and exciting on their/it's own terms. This is because mariachi, as Bronx frontman Matt Caughthran has patiently explained way more times than is necessary, is as much a part of the fabric of southern Californian life as skateboards and Botox. And by trading in their napalm blitzkrieg for two hundred year old rhythms, they've re-tuned faithfully to punk's original do anything, play anything essence.
True, there's an inevitable period of orientation towards the jaranas, guitarrons and wailing trumpets, whilst Caughthran's voice is transformed from its default mode of eardrum shredding bark to a more diffident pitch. But outlaw costumes or not, this is a Bronx record, so accordingly there are darker lyrical overtones which echo the lives of the Hispanic immigrants who've exported mariachi north into the orange groves and urban barrios. Most striking of these is the dichotomy presented by religion, as on Holy Caughthran claims to have witnessed "The face of god" appearing before him, whilst less stirred by miracles on Silver or Lead he disdainfully commands "Quit asking Jesus for help". For a band who've never taken a backward step or soft option in their career, the perpetual use of both light and shade here creates a polyester shitstorm of new points of view.
On one level, El Bronx will win the band few new friends, but only because after three albums of unremittingly joyous controlled aggression, there are so few of left to convince of their authenticity. But whilst the outlet becoming a permanent arrangement is highly unlikely, it still can't quite contain the real concern, which is that it distracts them from continuing to be our anger, fear and conscience all at once.