Popular Revolt/Revuelta Popular, the debut album by the New York-based political punk band El Front weighs in with 40 tracks and a run time of over 70 minutes. While some might cry excess, I have never bought the "too much of a good thing" argument and in this case I would instead employ another adage, "the more the better." Blending old school punk, reggae and occasionally other musical styles from ska to bhangra, as well as both English and Spanish lyrics, the band's unique ability to seamlessly transition between diverse points on the map and machete a clear and concise pathway through this musical jungle keeps you fully engaged and tuned in from start to finish of this inspiring, hard hitting and politically charged album.
El Front is a curious yet symbiotic hybrid of one part old school British punk band with the political edge and poignancy of the Clash, and one part gringo ambassadors for the popular socialist movements of Latin America, with their street smart anarcho-socialist diplomacy wrapped in the guise of some quite danceable Latin reggae tunes. From the air raid sirens of the album's opening salvo, "Freedom is on the March," one of the album's many incendiary straight out punk tunes which delivers a scathing commentary on the hypocritical double speak used to justify military aggression, to "Himno Zapatista," the band's upbeat Latin-infused adaptation of the anthem of the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico, to the closing tune "The End of Innocence," a slow ethereal groove that poetically follows the trail of major historical travesties that have led us to the brink of a point of no return, this album is at once uplifting for it's positive energy and challenging to the psyche for it's gravity.
The band has brought on lots of guest musicians for this record, including a three-piece horn section. While some songs stick to guitar bass and drum purity, others have lots of instrumentation like vintage organs and synths, percussion, Cuban tres and even some fiery speeches by some revolutionary types scattered all around for good measure. The horns really shine on tracks like the pub rock-esque "Stranger" and the anthematic reggae tune "Revolution Time," as well as add texture to the album's dub reggae tracks like "Dub Comunicado" and "Miranda Dub," and a bhangra-reggae track appropriately entitled "Mash it Up." The sum total of all this is a multi-layered soundscape which reveals some new subtle nuance with every listen. This is not an album to be filed away on a shelf but rather one you can return to again and again and still be pleasantly surprised by some new revelation.
Aside from the 21 songs on the album, there are the 19 other tracks which are interludes between the songs. Most of them need to be heard in the context of the album and don't really hold up on their own. Anywhere from 20 seconds to over a minute long, some of these are musical in nature, some are not, but most of them seem designed to lend a bit of satirical humour to the album which helps to balance out the seriousness of the themes covered. The band draws lyrical fodder from both current and historical events, railing against the powers that be in tunes like "Cowboy President," "The Front Line" and "Probable Cause" and echoing the rallying cries of popular movements from the Spanish Civil War to the present day in songs like "Asesinos en el Poder," "Agitators" and "A Las Barricadas." If you read carefully the lyrics in the booklet included with the rest of the sharp artwork of this CD package you may find yourself going to your computer to look up some of these references to satisfy your curiosity and I have no doubt that El Front would take heart in that, because this is clearly an album with a message to deliver...make that many messages.
If you aren't politically minded, you could easily enjoy this album on it's musical merit alone. That said, politics can be inevitably divisive, even in music. If this album has a drawback it could be that. Depending on where your politics lie, you may find El Front too bitter a pill to swallow. However, if you are politically minded and gravitate to the left, then this is definitely one you don't want to miss. In an age where more and more people are rising up in the streets right across the globe, El Front seems to have a finger on the pulse of this spreading popular revolt. If you have a revolution in need of a soundtrack, you need not look any further, comrade.