Los Angeles rockers The Bronx have released three albums, each with the same title (The Bronx), and have done so without softening or compromising their fierce, visceral punk rock assault. This is a good thing. And one would certainly be forgiven for assuming that album number four for the group would be more of the same aggressive, powerful goodness. But instead of following their tried and true path of four-chord fury, The Bronx have teamed up with some string and horn players, changed their name to `Mariachi El Bronx’ and recorded a Mariachi album.
You read that right. It sounds zany, confusing even. But it’s just zany enough to be a brilliant move on the band’s part. While prior bands have made stylistic shifts just as unusual or unexpected, and Rocket From the Crypt even released a split single with an actual mariachi band, it’s almost unheard of for a band to make such a dramatic leap. Yet those who had been paying close attention to the band might have seen it coming. On a fairly recent TV performance, the group was asked to play an acoustic set, but rather than attempt to water down their songs, The Bronx re-arranged their material mariachi style, thus giving birth to a brand new direction for their next album.
The concept behind Mariachi El Bronx is enough to make it worth a listen, but the songs themselves are quite good, thus making it worthy of repeat spins. “Cell Mates” is an upbeat love song told from behind prison bars, sung sweetly by frontman Joby Ford, who typically can be heard shredding his vocals on the group’s past three outings. The syncopated rhythms of “Despredator” (ha!) make it a ballad you can really get down to, while “Quiceniera” (double ha!) is so slight on guitar that it’s almost all rhythm, which isn’t a bad thing at all. By “Sleepwalking,” however, the group really gets moving, throwing down a more furious rhythm and playing with maximum intensity. And it gets double points for Ford’s smackdown, “stop asking Jesus for help/ go out and find it yourself.”
The tightness, the musicianship and melodicism on Mariachi El Bronx is enough to show that this is, indeed, a Bronx album, if one repackaged and presented in an entirely different way. That said, they’ve done a marvelous job, and whether this qualifies as The Bronx’s fourth album or Mariach El Bronx’s first, it’s a welcome addition to the catalog.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.