By Zachary Swickey
Mariachi El Bronx is a band you need to hear to believe. Never in my life did I think that I would find myself jamming along to a kickass mariachi record. Leave it to Los Angeles punk vets The Bronx to create an alter ego that is completely atypical of their usual style but equally as amazing.
You see, The Bronx are a top-notch hardcore punk act known for putting on bats**t crazy live shows, resembling the closest thing we have to the raucousness of Black Flag in their heyday. The Bronx’s three self-titled albums are a greatest hits package of what I like to call “manthems” (songs that make you want to punch something yet have an inexplicable bouncy quality). On the heels of their last effort in ‘08, they announced the impending release of a mariachi record. Say what?
I thought it was some type of joke at first … until I heard the music. My first taste, “Cell Mates,” was a fun, catchy track with piping trumpets and all the typical mariachi elements, but it seemed like a one-trick pony. Then I heard the mellow, heartfelt “Holy,” which slowed things down and blew me away, instantly converting me into a true mariachi music fan in the process. Matt Caughthran’s vocals have always had a great intensity and emotion to them with The Bronx, and that quality remains with El Bronx, yet in such a different way. His voice can be surprisingly soft and delicate on tracks like “My Love,” which undoubtedly leaves woman swooning. Every track on the album is worth a listen and will make you feel like you’re partyin’ south of the border.
El Bronx’s sound was grandfathered by Los Lobos singer David Hidalgo, who happens to be guitarist Vincent’s father. As the guys studied videos on YouTube to nail down the Mariachi sound, they approached Hidalgo for critiquing to help ensure they respected the genre and stayed faithful to it (they already had the look down). The group has found success on the road, opening for the Killers and the Foo Fighters and will have a slot at this year’s Austin City Limits Music Festival next month.
Earlier this month, Mariachi El Bronx released their follow-up, which is, like their debut, self-titled. Their sophomore effort is an expansion of the sound found on their debut, with the guys really stepping up their newfound mariachi skills. Each member performs an array of duties – for example, member Ray Suen (who used to tour with The Killers and is also a part of the White Sea, who we also dig) plays the violin, guitar, harp, requinto jarocho, vihuela and the jarana (yeah, I haven’t heard of most of those either). The opening track, “48 Roses,” is a theatrical delight with vibrant horn and string sections. Caughthran’s serenading on “Map of the World” and the dance-inducing, tequila shootin’ “Revolution Girls” are definite highlights on the album and demand repeat listens.
There are few bands that could pull off something this bold and respectful to a classic, admittedly niche genre here in the states, but Mariachi El Bronx pull it off with a surprising amount of universal appeal.