What a rush records with this much shove and stamina don't come along often. Not since the Murder City Devils first slammed me against the wall with 1998's Empty Bottles, Broken Hearts have I been jolted like this. The Bronx are, like the hood they conjure, tougher than your average high school bully, and fully prepared to pound on you.
And like that unexpected tap on the shoulder from someone about to knock you out, the L.A. foursome's self-titled debut opens quietly but threatens to explode. Don't touch the volume yet, lest your ears be split in about 10 seconds. What introduces lead track "Heart Attack American" is quiet, speedy punk rock, but weak compared to the blood-curdling shriek and equally intense blast of sound that follow.
The Bronx sound is loud, ferocious punk rock done right. With the slamming, bottomed-out beats, spiraling dirty riffs and standout bass all circling together like they could fit with none other, the music seems to breathe a life of its own, throbbing with excitement, pulsing in desperation and pushing in anger.
Guitarist Joby J. Ford has developed a one-of-a-kind style, impressively attention-grabbing throughout the 10-track album. His playing has an improvised feel and a moody sound, slightly reminiscent of Johnny Thunders (New York Dolls). At times Ford holds all strings down at once before breaking into another exciting riff. It's difficult to describe, but when you hear it, it sounds like nothing you've heard before.
Drumming (by Jorma Vik) is heavy and full of might buckets of sweat were certainly sacrificed for these explosive beats. And bass (by James Tweedy) is indeed a powerful element on this album, maintaining an ultra-heavy punishing, coming-to-get-you feel.
Songs evoke dizzying images of disease, drugs, depression and death. Throughout are the painful shrieks of lead singer Matt Caughthran. "I don't know where I should begin/ My scars have overrun my skin," Caughthran screams over revved-up, thunderous instrumentation on "Gun Without Bullets." "Frustration's taken all my patience/ Exposing everything inside/ The more time that I spend alone/ Is the more that I hate myself ... I don't know where I feel apart."
While most of the album is led by throaty howls, the melodic but harsh "Notice of Eviction" is an exception; it finds Caughthran offering sweetly impassioned singing atop actual toe-tapping beats. The angry "False Alarm" feels a bit like Fugazi for its edgy minimalism, rubber band riffs and stop-start rhythms. Fueled by eerie, wiry guitar and massive bass, "They Will Kill Us All (Without Mercy)" pisses on LA street culture while feeling ironically attached to it. "We got a new design/ Excess redefined so you can dream it," Caughthran snarls. "We rewrote the standards/ Covered up the old scars so you believe it .../ Good drugs/ Bad streets/ Arms tied/ My world capsized."
Straight to the veins just like their music.