East Los Angeles band Chicano Batman has long been a local favorite. The four-piece group captures the spirit of genres from the past while still having strong roots in the present. Their Hispanic background influences their musical style, and the four young men showcase the potential of the American melting pot by blending their culture and sound with multiple influences. Soul, blues, Jazz, funk and many other genres weave in and out of Chicano Batman’s music making each song a unique puzzle piece coming together to form a beautiful image.
On stage, the band moves with a confident, yet humble nature, each member dawning vintage suits that channel a 50’s moonlight crooner. Bardo Martinez (lead vocals, organ, guitar) commands the stage with powerful vocals that traverse Spanish and English lyrics. He and bandmates Eduardo Arenas (bass guitar, vocals), Carlos Arévalo (guitar) and Gabriel Villa (drums, percussion) have a knack for filling any venue with an indisputable and insatiable energy that translates well into the studio.
Their earlier work harbored more on well crafted and often times eclectic instrumentals, but with their latest release, ‘Freedom is Free,’ out March 3, the band becomes more vocal. The writing in many of their songs take on a more political stance, and Martinez seems to find his voice in a sea of political jargon.
“Passed You By,” the opening song of the album, starts off on a softer side. Lofty guitar riffs make way for an understated bass, and backing falsettos lead into more frustrated lyrics. Martinez channels a speaker witnessing the hesitation of another. While his counterpart has let life slip by, Martinez is determined not to follow suit.
Caution continues with “Friendship (Is a Small Boat in a Storm).” The song’s lyrics harbor an intuitive perspective on the notion of trust and friendship and being betrayed by someone. What the band learned is, in troubling times, it’s best to be wary of others’ motives. While the winds may be strong and seas rough, the band pushes through.
In “Angel Child” the band dusts off grandiose love songs of the past setting them ablaze with newfound funk. Falsetto choruses, slowed down interludes and jazzy bass lines work together in an unexpected and brilliant way.
The album takes a turn for the political with title track “Freedom is Free.” It’s here where the band really shines. A funky bass line ushers in powerful lyrics as Chicano Batman give social commentary on current issues. Among the critics and pessimists, Chicano Batman maintain a cautious hopefulness. They remind us that as long as nature prevails, the Earth will go on with or without us. While we are here though, there are a few universal truths one should remember including our basic rights to an open minded freedom.
“You’ve got your guns up on display, but you can’t control how I feel no way, because Freedom is free … and you can’t take that away from nobody,” Martinez sings.
In the middle of the album the band sprinkles in songs with Spanish lyrics. These songs never seem out of place, and Martinez and band have no problem blending in their cultural background. “La Jura” and “Fletcha Al Sol” showcase the band’s fluidity as a group that can write in both Spanish and English. Here, these songs take on a more rhythmic approach and Martinez’s vocals take on a different tone, although the lyrics are still politically charged. They’re well within frame of the album and one doesn’t think twice when the album’s language shifts gears.
The band’s strongest song, though, comes toward the end with “The Taker Story,” a hard hitting single that spares no ambiguity in criticizing capitalistic greed. Martinez carefully articulates every word over a subtle, yet bouncy, bass line and drum beats. Martinez sings about humanity’s greed from biblical times to present day and highlights the darker underbelly of civilization that has caused such things as war, genocides and environmental destruction. The band notes that in an attempt to separate ourselves from nature and other animals, man has enacted a rigid societal structure that often weeds out those who won’t or can’t conform.
“We decide what’s good and bad, for the entire universe … If you don’t want to die, you have to live like me,” Martinez sings.
All in all, ‘Freedom is Free’ depicts a progression for Chicano Batman. The band is as they always were — creative, innovative and thoughtful. Now, however, they’ve sailed into new waters with a clearer voice and powerful social stance. I, like many others, look forward to where they go next.
Chicano Batman will play at the Pomona Glasshouse April 29. For more information on tickets or where to buy their music, visit their website at chicanobatman.com.