The Bronx Continue to be One of the Top Hard Rock Acts of the Last Decade on IV
Forget the punk or hardcore labels — The Bronx are one of the top hard rock acts of the last decade. Almost single handedly, they’ve fought nobly for a notion of rock that’s hard charging, chug drinking, dead honest, throat shredded, and hook driven. As an experiment, just imagine if hard rock ended with Buckcherry. Now rinse, spit, and thank The Bronx.
Not content to recapitulate some rapidly, rightfully decaying memory of ‘80s Sunset Boulevard excess, The Bronx have been smart not to abandon all the glitter in the gutter either. They’re the stepchildren children of Black Flag and GN’R, L.A. through and through, and a decade in, their mixture of steely civic pride and personal desperation should strike a chord with all the rockers choking in the smog on a conveyor belt freeway to whatever. Let the children eat meat and potatoes.
But after three similar – and similarly winning – albums, and an extended break to focus on Mariachi El Bronx (don’t ask), what does their new album IV have to add? Thematically, not much. This is a world of inner tumult, urban decay, and missed opportunities, where “lightning strikes once, it does not strike twice, and when it’s gone, it’s gone.” Just like always.
Musically though, this is the brightest the group has ever sounded. Vocalist Matt Caughthran has always had a melodic sense underlying the violence he puts his throat through, but his soulful, surprisingly sweet pipes gets more play on IV than they ever have. Almost every song features a chorus with at least one layer of clean purrty voicing from Caughtran. “Style over everything” offers its chorus as a lament, “Youth Wasted” as a sort of affirmation, and closer “Last Revelation” as a two-part paean to classic rock (maybe Boston?).
That’s not to say the Bronx have gone soft. Check “Under the Rabbit,” the album’s screamer, where, true to IV’s MO (which I think is: “Fuck you, big choruses everywhere”), its swaggering fang-dripping refrain is amongst the album’s catchiest.
Instrumentally, Jorma Vik’s idiosyncratic, tom-heavy bashing dominates the low end, and establishes a series of grooves fit for toe tapping as much as lip sneering. The guitars and the bass bang it out in the middle range, taking prominence rarely but successfully, like with the Jehu-style post hardcore wrenching of “Ribcage.”
Like Torche, there’s heaviness on IV that feels like an affirmation. But rather than Torche’s ultra-heavy-ultra-positive vibes out there in some cosmic Vallhalla, The Bronx are forever grounded. There’s an inescapable weariness in The Bronx; on tracks like “Along for the Ride,” there’s a sense that they end up affirming despite this weariness, and not because of it. The only misstep is on the guitar and vocal ballad “Life Less Ordinary,” Caughthran’s paean to the mock-heroic sacrifices of the rock n’ roll life. Without a rhythmic engine behind him, Caughtran’s vulnerability comes off as being too-sentimental.
But that’s just a quibble from a band doomed to be head of the class in a school where less students show up every year.