Mariachi El Bronx, The War on Drugs 

Punk Mariachi = Surprisingly Awesome

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Mariachi El Bronx, Mariachi El Bronx (II)

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It would be easy to dismiss Mariachi El Bronx as a mere lark by the Los Angeles punk band’s more-prominent alter ego, The Bronx. After all, they were originally hatched as a joke when a TV station asked The Bronx to deliver one of their searing punk tracks “unplugged.” Duly offended, The Bronx donned some sombreros, rearranged their tune “Dirty Leaves” into a mariachi lament and accidentally found they had not only a knack for, but a genuine love of, traditional mariachi music when they were just trying to be smartasses.

With this, the second Mariachi El Bronx album, it’s clearer than ever that the project is no joke. The 12 songs making up Mariachi El Bronx (II) are full of love and loss, but the exciting horn blasts and dramatic arrangements make it anything but a downer. On the ballad “Fallen,” strings, horns and vocals by all-female mariachi outfit Reyna de Los Angeles blend into a beautiful story told by lead singer Matt Caughthran. “Norteño Lights” mixes English and Spanish lyrics to great effect on the upbeat, dance-worthy cut. The instrumental named after the band, “Mariachi El Bronx,” showcases all that’s great about the record: intricate guitar-picking, intensely creative percussion, potent horns and an energy that takes the listener’s mind straight south of the border. Mariachi El Bronx open for Foo Fighters at the Maverik Center on Oct. 11. (Dan Nailen)

The War on Drugs, Slave Ambient

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While listening to Slave Ambient, the hey-I-think-I’ve-heard-this-before thought continually arises. The thought holds true especially if you grew up with Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, The Byrds or Bruce Springsteen. This album’s classic rock & roll sensibility is apparent, with The War on Drugs’ frontman Adam Granduciel’s distinct voice making for easy comparisons to those artists. However, because of Granduciel’s artful orchestration, the album is decidedly modern, with its ambient buzz and vexing synth.

From the opening track, “Best Night,” the Philadelphia three-piece is cool and confident on their first full-length since Kurt Vile left the group in 2008. “Best Night” unfolds slowly and patiently, with Granduciel’s pleasant, nasal drone backed by spacey sounds layered beneath beat-driven rock. Other standout tracks include “Baby Missiles” and “Black Water Falls.”

About halfway through the listen, on “Come to the City,” Granduciel sings, “All roads lead to me/ I’ve been rambling/ I’m just driftin’”—followed by a howling guitar riff that conjures up U2 Bono-and-The-Edge workings. This line seems significant because it aptly sums up the effort, both sonically and conceptually—Slave Ambient’s 12 tracks are adventurous and sprawling—while it simultaneously pinpoints the album’s ever-present emotional theme. (Austen Diamond)

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