When LA punk rock ass kickers The Bronx first announced their mariachi based side project a few years ago, I was a little worried. It seemed like such an indulgence. At best, I thought it might just be a way for them to let off steam before getting back into their punk rock ass kickery. Then I heard Mariachi El Bronx (I), and it was more serious and more complete than I ever thought it would be. Another two albums and several international tours later under the moniker, and it’s obvious that Mariachi El Bronx is more than an indulgence or tossed of side project. I’ve liked the previous albums and given them a spin or two, but now that they’re back with Mariachi El Bronx (III), I realised I need to take Mariachi El Bronx more seriously.
To say that all mariachi music sounds the same to me, would probably be over stating the sensitivity of my mariachi pallet. But I don’t think it stops me from appreciating it on a certain level. It also leads me to focusing more on lyrics than I usually would. Musically, New Beat and Wildfires sound pretty much the same to me, but I do enjoy the story telling aspect of the lyrics. It borders on corny and pastiche, but the band commits more than enough to pull it off.
Starting with an almost spookily chanted refrain, Sticks and Stones shows that the strict rules of a musical genre don’t have to totally confine the music made. Once the horns kick in, it’s clearly mariachi music, but before that, it’s something totally different and even a little haunting. The rules are adhered to, but Mariachi El Bronx find new ways to push those rules to their limit.
Filling out the traditional sound with lush strings and a little more in melody, High Tide sounds like high end, posh mariachi. Immediately followed Nothing’s Changed, straight out of an old western, complete with wood blocks emulating the hooves of some gun slinging loner with a heart of gold’s horse.
There’s a certain optimism to the mariachi sound that makes it hard to hate. Live, The Bronx is one of the most positive, fun punk shows I’ve ever been to. But listening to their records, I could understand how the uninitiated might find their sound a little aggressive. That’s something they never have to worry about as Mariachi El Bronx. Mariachi El Bronx (III) is light, upbeat and infectiously happy. It’s also definitive proof that this side project is more than that. Mariachi El Bronx is its own band, as fully realised as the punk version that preceded it.