I imagine other bands must harbor a good deal of jealousy towards the Bronx. This is the second time now that the band has shown the audacity to skip the tedious career trajectory that most of their cohort endure. For the second time they've arrived at a fascinating, perilous and most importantly accomplished place well before their due.
If you can remember the murky dark ages that were 2002, then you'll recall that the Bronx came out of nowhere. This publication's first mention of them went so far as to call them a "mystery." Here was some upshot Californian act that emerged from nowhere and had every online rumor site foaming at the mouth to figure out just who they were. I remember early claims that they were actually a secret John Reis side project. How else had did some no-name act end up playing their first handful of shows with Social Distortion, Rocket from the Crypt and the Supersuckers? Of course, the reality was far less interesting (Vagrant Records art department?) but by the time the interviews came rolling in the mystique had done its job.
The Bronx craftily avoided the obscure doldrums in which most young bands wallow, then had the gall to pull a label move we crucify other bands for. Their White Drugs imprint made their actual backing a mere abstraction, but it felt more like an artistic choice then an act of deception. Their stay at Ferrett was merely a formality on their rise to the majors at Island, and yet the Bronx avoided the wrath of an easily wounded punk scene. There was simply something too surreal and fast about their career to make the old indie abandonment speech. Whatever rails guide typical bands the Bronx had long since jumped.
Then the Bronx more or less disappeared. There was far too much time in the wilderness before this followup, and of course the resulting work throws a bit of a curve ball. Make no mistake there are some genuine midtempo ballads here, nothing ironic or insincere about them. Yet they don't feel like token radio singles -- the songs are too good and the production too genuine. Again, if any other band followed up "Heart Attack American" with material like "Dirty Leaves" or the poppy "White Guilt," we'd have their heads on a critical pike -- but this is the Bronx, and I'll be damned if I can explain it, but they pull it off.
Of course we'll stop and ponder those low gear moments because they're outside the box, but the band's far from abandoning its core: raw-throated punk rock in the vein of Drive Like Jehu and Black Flag. The Bronx at their best come off fast and well-rooted like the New Bomb Turks, yet share in a bit of the Nerve Agents' dark, reckless energy. The blistering 52-second "Small Stone" gives way to "Shitty Future" and "History's Stranglers" -- both showing the band sounding far more confident this time out. Of course when Matt Caughthran's shrieking the coolest chorus of the year ("I've got the hands of history's stranglers") it doesn't hurt. Compared with their first, this record's more dynamic throughout and lays off the throttle from time to time. That's always a risky move for a band built on such a tightly wound, angry foundation, but the Bronx swings and swaggers when they should so it works.
Like they skipped their formative years, it sounds like the Bronx has skipped writing that safe sophomore record. The Bronx II, or whatever we're calling it, is confident, well formed and diverse. It really does play like a third album.