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Plug In, Get Radical: The Bronx Talk Their Fired Up Comeback

Tuesday, 19 September 2017 Written by Huw Baines

“Man, they fuckin’ rip. I’ll tell you right now.”

Do you really, in the inky recesses of your heart, want new songs by the Bronx to do anything else? Since the release of their first eponymous LP in the summer of 2003, the Los Angeles band have become standard bearers for a brand of punk ‘n’ roll that clings to an even keel by its fingernails.

Their new record, also self-titled but known as ‘Brvnx’ or ‘Bronx V’, is a product of its environment. Informed by the toxic political landscape and swirling injustices of the Trump administration, it lurches between feral guitars, another throat-shredding outing for vocalist Matt Caughthran and a striking undercurrent of desperation.

After several years on the road in support of the band’s third album under their Mariachi El Bronx guise, the time felt right for a return to their punk roots. “With El Bronx it took on such a life of its own. It was such a beautiful thing,” Caughthran says. “The Bronx guys just woke up as the Bronx one day, you know what I mean? You just have to wait.

“The fuckin’ stars are going to guide you. You gotta go where your heart is, gotta go where the inspiration is. It just felt like, with everything going on in the world and a ton of Mariachi touring under our belt, it was time to get back in the Bronx world. Time to plug in and get radical. And that’s what we did, man.”

In almost 15 years, the band’s recipe hasn’t changed dramatically. Getting radical, in this instance, still means maintaining a keen balance between noise and melody. The Bronx have always been able to play, and here guitarist Joby J. Ford presides over a diverse slate of sounds from the rabid Fill The Tanks to the riff-heavy Past Away and disarmingly sweet Side Effects.

Caughthran matches him step by step. The vocalist deliberately avoids juxtaposing music and lyrics, meaning that when Ford feeds a new idea to him he follows its lead. “If Joby sends me a guitar track that sounds like murder, that’s what I’m writing about,” he says. On ‘Brvnx’, that mechanical consideration has led to some of the most politically-charged, emotionally fraught work the band has put out in years.

Their sights are set on the top guy, but they're walking the streets with everyone else. The opener - Night Drop at the Glue Factory - finds Caughthran screaming: “Everything is compromised!” Along the way we cross paths with people who range from hopeless to furious. The record’s world is constantly on the verge of bubbling over into something violent and miserable.

It’s almost as though having the Presidential seal attached to society’s worst impulses results in a litany of fucked up things happening. “There’s a lot of consequences on the record,” Caughthran says. “There’s a lot of cause and effect. That’s the way things are right now.” It’s been a while, though, since the Bronx were this direct.

“It’s been a minute, I’ll be honest,” Caughthran says. “It has. It’s not necessarily my comfort zone. I’m a political person but there are certain parts of art and music that I don’t really view as political arenas. But there comes a time when you feel inspired, or you feel so strongly about a certain thing that you have to talk about it. You have to give an opinion on it. That’s where I’m at personally and where the United States is politically right now. I didn’t want to ignore that. I wanted to deal with that in a Bronx way and I think we did.”

On multiple occasions here - noticeably on the cautionary tale Sore Throat - Caughthran returns to character-based writing, something that has been a facet of his output dating back years. Here that allows him to flesh out the record’s major themes, but it also creates an intellectual disconnect. “There’s a direct line to me in every single song,” he says. “But it’s all coded.” That layer will be removed when these songs are reverberating around clubs, giving them a different sort of immediacy.

“There are different delivery methods,” Caughthran says. “You have people who can strap on headphones and dive into a record. They can feel so connected to it and experience it in the deepest part of their heart. Then some people need to experience the energy of it. They need to see it live. They need to feel it in their face, knocking them over.

“They need a group environment and the conscious energy of a punk show. Then the song hits them in a way they weren’t ready for. I love this record because it is both. It’s a headphones record where there’s a lot of intricate stuff happening musically, but it’s also one of those records you can blast on a car stereo as you drive 120 miles per hour into a fuckin’ wall. I’m proud of what we did.”

‘Brvnx’ is out on September 22 through Cooking Vinyl/ATO.

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