by Jake Doolin
Sometimes it isn’t so much what a band has to say, rather it’s that they’re there to say it all. I say this because my girlfriend first exposed me to the music of Chicano Batman one day as we were driving around town. She said she loved that a band like them existed at all; that she could see people who looked like her playing the music she loved so much.
It’s something that a lot of us music listeners (mostly us white folk) take for granted. So much of modern music is catered to artists or bands that feature people who look like us, and when an artist who doesn’t attempt to reach those same heights they are often overlooked or placed in lesser genres (‘urban contemporary’ comes to mind).
So it’s refreshing, and important that a band like Chicano Batman is making music today, and even more so when you listen to how much fun they’re having at doing it. This is apparent right from the start of their newest album Freedom is Free that has the band moving from their usual southern rock style to a funkier R&B groove which suits them wonderfully.
You can hear the exuberance in lead singer Bardo Martinez’s voice as his silky smooth vocals glide over the opener, ‘Pass You By’. The songs bass guitar riff and drumming are heavenly and mixed with Martinez’s lyrics about taking time to smell the roses in life exudes coolness.
Just like Childish Gambino last year, Chicano Batman seems to have gained a newfound confidence in a genre shift and it helps elevate the music to new heights. Songs like ‘Friendship (Is a Small Boat in a Storm)’ and ‘Run’ feel like they were ripped out of any number of 70’s funk records, but done in such a uniquely Chicano Batman way that there is no question at who made it.
There is even some room for experimentation on the record as several instrumental tracks that, while interesting and are sonically pleasing, don’t really add much to the record overall.
Lyrically Freedom is Free is as political as the band has been, but once again they do so in a way that is completely unique to them that it’s a treat to hear even when the subject material isn’t as light. ‘La Jura’ is a heartbreaking examination of police brutality, while ‘The Taker Story’ points the finger pretty directly at the woes humanity has placed upon itself.
It’s never to dim though, the band uses the R&B genre to great effect making music that’s easy on the ears and carries the audience along the dark tales it tells. Martinez and Co deserve all the kudos for making a record like this as one as it might possibly be the record that breaks them into the mainstream.
But even if that doesn’t happen, the fact that the band exists at all is worth celebrating. Giving artists like Chicano Batman the recognition they deserve is important because it exposes them to people who might of never seen a band that looks like them and is spoken of in the same vain as a Alabama Shakes or Black Keys. It helps then too that the music they make is worth celebrating too.
Freedom is Free is out now on ATO Records.