Mariachi El Bronx

Mariachi El Bronx (II)

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If there was any doubt that the gringo Angeleno hardcore punks in the Bronx were dead serious about their Mexican folk alter ego -- and for anyone who's spent time with Mariachi El Bronx's 2009 self-titled debut (or caught the twin bands' rollicking, identity-shifting live shows) there certainly was not -- the outfit's second album offers ironclad reassurance that this is no novelty act. Not messing with a good thing, the group takes essentially the same approach this time around -- even the album title's the same -- but the results exhibit a subtle yet significant improvement in almost every respect: both the production and the performances are notably crisper and punchier; the arrangements are richer and more complex, full of swirling, soaring strings; the stylistic range is successfully broadened (to encompass cumbia, norteño, and bolero), and the passion and fire on display are simply undeniable. And the songs, in particular, are uniformly strong and memorable, with highlights including the raucous, tempo-shifting instrumental "Mariachi El Bronx," the fun, flirtatious "Norteño Lights," and especially the tremendous, white-hot single "48 Roses," a philanderer's furiously impassioned plea for dubiously deserved forgiveness ("With four different lovers and 48 roses/I need a confessional that never closes"). The effect of Matt Caughthran's heartfelt but distinctly non-Hispanophone vocals (toned down though still discernibly punk-informed) atop resolutely traditionally styled instrumentation (give or take the not strictly conventional presence of a drum set) recalls the slightly uncanny effectiveness of David Byrne singing with Brazilian musicians on Rei Momo or Paul Simon with South Africans on Graceland (the Pogues' use of traditional Irish music is another, perhaps more apposite comparison) -- a major difference, however, is that Caughthran's lyrical and emotional approach cleaves far closer to the conventions of the genre in question, focusing mainly on affairs of the heart (though he doesn't shy away from more somber philosophical musings on death, poverty, and religion). Purists may, of course, have their qualms, but it would be hard to deny the combination of reverence, proficiency, and sheer exuberance in evidence here -- indeed, it's difficult to imagine any serious limits of this band's appeal. ¡Viva El Bronx!

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