A few months ago, I was feeling a little bummed to be out on the West Coast when almost every one of my favourite bands – Every Time I Die, The Wonder Years, Such Gold, Crime In Stereo, Four Year Strong, Polar Bear Club – were on the other side of the country and not looking like playing near me anytime soon. This month, however, I’m pretty damn stoked to be on the left coast of the USA, because LA punk rock is just about to explode once more, thanks to three bands at three different points in their careers.
The Bronx, Wavves and FIDLAR; the first two being bands I’ve loved for years, the third one that I’ve only come across relatively recently but who I’ve been so impressed by. FIDLAR released their debut album last week, The Bronx are dropping their fourth record early February, and Wavves’ newie is due at the end of March. Together, these three Los Angeles bands don’t have much in common. The Bronx’s ball-tearing, mile-a-minute punk rock is pretty much unparalleled today; Wavves, whose reputation was built on fuzzy surf-pop routines, irresponsibility and a seeming lack of inspiration besides weed and cats, seem to be taking a more professional and clean pop-rock tack on new album ‘Afraid of Heights’ (based on the sombre and demure ‘Demon To Lean On‘ and the upbeat earworm track ‘Sail To The Sun‘); and FIDLAR, who could easily be put off as just another Wavves clone surf-pop slacker band if not for their punishing tour schedule along the likes of The Hives and Delta Spirit. But with new records out within weeks of each other, and tour schedules overlapping and intersecting, these three bands are the embodiment of LA’s reburgeoning punk scene.
The Bronx have gotten five years older since their last album. In the meantime, they’ve toured (and won over) the world with their Mexican-themed alter egos, Mariachi El Bronx, playing the type of Latin-themed fiesta music that seeps through the downtown quarters of LA. The strength of this band is that they don’t find a niche and sit in it; even within the relatively constrained boundaries of four-chord punk rock, The Bronx change up their sound between each record. ‘The Bronx IV’ is such a different beast to ‘The Bronx III.’ Ditto to ‘The Bronx II’ and ‘I.’ Their debut, which celebrates the 10th anniversary of its 2003 release in the same year as its creators drop album four, is one of the most blistering, throat-shredding, powerful and uncompromising punk rock albums since at least the turn of the century; ‘They Will Kill Us All Without Mercy’ and ‘I Got Chills’ are brutal and killer, with epic album closer ‘Strobe Life’ hinting at the more artful and thoughtful tunes that would dominate ‘II.’ ‘Dirty Leaves’ and ‘Around The Horn’ are prototypes for the slow-burning El Bronx numbers that would come a few years down the track. ‘III’ returned to noisy rock and left behind the softer moments, but probably because ‘III’ and the first ‘El Bronx’ record were released just 10 months apart, with the band deciding – rather than combining the loud and softer themes – to split them into two projects. Which brings us to 2013, and ‘IV,’ the most upfront and no-bullshit Bronx record since 2003.
From the opening chord of the opening song ‘The Unholy Hand,’ The Bronx signal their return to the punk power that forged their fame. Down and dirty guitar melds with vocalist Matt Caughthran’s trademark gravelly yelp as perfectly as ever, the same rollicking raucous groove that ran through their early work again popping up here. ‘Along For The Ride’ and ‘Youth Wasted’ show off Caughthran’s new voice, now not just about all-out powerful screaming but also showing off his melodic singing voice – no doubt melded and formed from El Bronx experience – in equal measure. Even as the volume and the intensity of the music is cranked up from ‘III,’ the sound is more melodic, more groovy. While The Bronx can still throw down and shred it with the best of them, as best shown in album standout ‘Too Many Devils,’ they realise it’s not JUST about turning the amps up to 11 and laying down pure noise and fury on tape. Its their finest effort since ‘I,’ and once I’ve had more time to digest it, it might even usurp their debut as my favourite Bronx LP. Interviewed by LA Weekly, Matt said “I love simple chords and a strong melody and that’s what we kinda wanted to do with our new record. The one thing we wanted to do on this record was not overcomplicate the songs with too many parts. We wanted to strip down our sound and just make a very straightforward record.” Mission accomplished.
LA has always been the world’s true epicentre of dirty low-down punch-yourself-in-the-face punk rock, and not one thing has really changed lately.