Four years on from their last album, the punks are back with their most politically-minded, angry and galvanising record to date.
“I hope that people will be able to reflect on this album and look back on a great time in their life,” guitarist Joby J. Ford says, starting to chuckle. “The chances of that are extremely low, I’d say they’re probably 9%!” he then admits.
Joby’s pessimism probably is not too misplaced. Back in 2006, The Bronx released the single ‘Shitty Future’, which saw singer Matt Caughthran screaming about the oncoming of, well, a pretty shit time to come. While the track may have been built around a more personal narrative, looking back it’s like The Bronx had some eerie foresight. “To quote The Hives: ‘I Hate To Say I Told You So’!” Matt laughs. “That song would be more suited to this day and age than when it came out,” Joby adds. Indeed. Nearly a decade on from the release of ‘Shitty Future’, it has now been four years since The Bronx’s last punk record, ‘IV’, and three since they stepped out as their alter-egos Mariachi El Bronx, but the world has tilted on its axis into a new era of political and social upheaval. As Joby puts it, “twenty years from now, this will be one of those times that’ll go down in history.”
The time was simply right for the band to get back in the studio. “There’s so much going on in the world, there’s so much going on in the United States, there’s so much going on with all of us individually and as a band, that it was a just a great time to write a record,” says Matt. They have not been simply content to pick up where they left off either: they’re re-energised, back with more blistering riffs, biting lyrics and full-throttle intensity than ever. “We were ready to fucking go for it,” he enthuses. “I feel like this record is a rebirth for our band. We found where we wanted to go, what we wanted to be and it feels really, really good to be back in the creative area.”
Inevitably, what was happening all around them has helped mould ‘V’ into The Bronx’s most politically-charged and socially-conscious to date. “When people make art, whether it’s a painter or guitar player, each time you create something your surroundings really work their way into what comes out,” Joby explains. Matt found the chaos unfolding around them at the time of writing to be a call to arms: “A soldier’s time is war time, and it’s the same with musicians,” he says. “It’s times like these of complete insanity, these are the times when it’s almost like your duty to create something, to write music and make a statement that people who are feeling left out and fucked over, ignored, who can’t speak up for themselves.”
As such, ‘V’ speaks to the social upheaval of today, touching on everything from police brutality to fake news and much more besides. They leave pretty much no stone unturned, and as an introduction to the record, the single ‘Sore Throat’ provided a searing, no-holds-barred introduction. A two-and-a-half-minute whirlwind, it thunders along with a pulsating beat and squalling, chaotic riffs, Matt screaming his words, the feeling of being “like the Challenger/ I’m gonna explode” exuding from every inch of his vocals.
For Matt, ‘Sore Throat’ emphasises the very public and open nature of the world’s fall into turmoil. “As a kid I watched the Challenger explode on TV and it always stuck with me. It’s one thing to explode or come to an end on your own terms, to have things go off in the sunset, but there’s a certain chaotic rawness to something like that when no one expects it, and it’s very public and tragic,” he says. “Everything’s laid out in public, for everyone to see, and it’s tragic, it’s like there’s blood everywhere.”
Even though ‘V’ is a record often coloured by world events, there was one personal issue that Matt didn’t feel he could ignore. “I struggled with depression for about three years and this record was the tail end of it, being able to write about it, acknowledge it,” he explains. There’s therefore two tracks on ‘V’ that see Matt directly addressing his battle. On ‘Side Effects,’ he talks about the numbing impact of medication with brutal honesty: “I can’t feel nothing no more/ that must mean I’m cured.” “You just get numb on stuff,” Matt says. “It’s a terrible feeling to not care and it sucks.” Meanwhile, Matt explains that ‘Channel Islands’ is “about saying goodbye in a lot of ways.” “I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to say goodbye to people that I care about and the life that I’d been living, and that song is me trying to figure it out,” Matt opens up.
Whether it’s Matt’s very personal battle or the ills of the wider world though, The Bronx are also fighting against an increasingly divided society. “The social divide in our country doesn’t need to be there,” Joby says. “Everybody is so terrified that their way of life is going to come to an end that it’s bad, and it’s fuelling the fire.” By contrast, ‘V’ tries to galvanise an opposing spirit to challenge the status quo. With tracks like ‘Fill The Tanks’ they ask people to “rise and resist,” determined that it’s “not too late” to do something, while ‘Kingsize’ calls for a revolution by imploring “knock it down and start all over.” Through it all, they constantly address the listener directly or collect everyone together with terms like “we” or “us,” stressing the importance of standing together in resistance. “If you were to strip everything away, that would be something that we want,” Joby says. “I think that would be rad!”
Despite the unbridled chaos then, there is still a faint, lingering sense of hope surrounding ‘V,’ a thread of light that the band hold on to. “I’m not saying there’s no chance, because I always believe there’s a chance to get better, but it’s going to take a lot,” Matt says. “I do believe that no matter how far along on this earth you’re born into it, you’ve still got the opportunity to make it a better place.”
‘Cordless Kids’ perfectly harnesses the difficult balance between destruction and rebirth, as well as the social commentary that permeates the album, Matt’s opening lines declaring “I want to set something on fire/ Something history will admire.” “I hope that people can listen to it and say that’s the truth, and feel it,” he wishes. With ‘V,’ The Bronx have helped to cement their own place in punk history, but have also crafted a furious treatise against the state of the modern world.