THE BRONX: MUCH MORE THAN THE POOR MAN’S EVERY TIME I DIE
I caught The Bronx live two years ago opening for Converge and Mastodon. Though the rest of the show that followed them was one of the best shows I’ve ever witnessed (Converge a transcendent, high energy, jagged mess of noise that translated their aural violence perfectly into a live environment; Mastodon an Earth-rumbling embodiment of the sort of heaviness upon which metal was founded), The Bronx left me feeling cold. Part of that was them being dropped into the wrong context. What would Converge’s esoteric noisecore and Mastodon’s technical reimagining of metal’s basics have to do with The Bronx’s obnoxious (though in retrospect, not a bad obnoxious) swagger? Would it be fair to have Scars on Broadway open up for Gojira and Meshuggah (for a super-2008-y package tour!)? For a band as deceptively simple as the Bronx, mislabeling and mishandling are practically standard. But these initial misdeeds would result in the unfortunate overshadowing of the ridiculous fun their music is, typified just as strongly on their third self titled album.
Though the Southern rock/boogie down take on hardcore that was en vogue earlier in the decade grew old really fast (mainly because it was played primarily by skinny boy hardcore bands from decidedly non-Southern locales), The Bronx’s approach still manages to be fun, played for an actual love of hip swiveling guitars as opposed to a heavy, pompous dose of irony. Though metal as fun is a concept explored by many (even this writer), The Bronx actively seek fun music without running the same dangerous gambit as Dragonforce – i.e., intentionally/unintentionally taking the piss out of a genre too many people take too seriously to begin with. And part of that fun is having a firm grasp on catchy, catchy songwriting. (“Past Lives” may go down as one of the glaringest omissions for a hit in recent memory if it doesn’t catch on, and makes you want to punch every drunken moron blathering along to Buckcherry’s “Crazy Bitch” square in the crotch.) The other songs vary slightly in quality and catchiness, but the result is the same throughout the record, while sidestepping the one thing that could kill an album like this – bloated length. After a few listens to break your pretentious, pre-conceived notions (or perhaps just mine), The Bronx (III) is a consistent, ballsy jaunt through a solid set of songs, which really is all one can ask for from such a band.
And yet, for a band that seem immediately pleasing, they have a hard time being properly labeled. Even in describing the band’s music as simple and fun, there’s never a sense that all this is a toss-off either. They play carefully off others’ notions of what the band should be. They don’t play to the ridiculous-haired faux-hardcore kids running to the Underoath stage at the Warped tour, the watered down AC/DC/Stones crowd like Jet or the aforementioned Buckcherry, or even the ironically dressed hardcore crowd drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon (despite being able to afford the obscure brews at the end of the tap.) And though labeling and branding are the death of anything good and authentic in music in the last ten years, it also is something people have come to expect. I myself had written the band off as a bunch of part time musicians making excuses for being full time partiers. And even if that assumption is true, they write better part time than many “rock and rollers” do full time. When fun has almost exclusively been reduced to shitty musicians writing shitty songs about drinking or grad students writing about what they think the unwashed do for a good time, The Bronx dedicate most of The Bronx (III) to brazenly schooling both unflattering sides of the spectrum. They’re a band from LA named after a rough borough of New York City, but they manage to be fun enough where that’s not a point of annoyance. Emaciated boys in Old Navy cowboy shirts, take heed.
(3 out of 5 horns)