Understand, I do not say this carelessly: DOWNTOWN BOYS are unequivocally the most exciting punk act to have surfaced on the east coast of the United States this decade.
This band is fun. This band is terrifying. This band is sincere. This band is edifying. Above all, though, Downtown Boys are attractively political in their nature. Their second album Full Communism is a step up from their eponymous debut released a few years back, primarily in that it offers a more forceful type of polemic against systemic issues that have only started to be actively redressed. In an article a few months ago in The Guardian, the author noted that without an “obvious enemy like Ronald Reagan for bands to focus on… politics isn’t something the bands are singing about.” Well, that may be. But in spite of this, Downtown Boys frontwoman/vocalist Victoria Ruiz implores her listeners to understand the pervasiveness of American oppression (especially for women, POC, members of the LGBT community) and the accompanying degree of ignorance it has bred.
In the song “Desde Arriba”, she highlights the productive elements of daily social discourse: “tell me what you know about [freedom] from above… from below” whilst voicing bilingual sentiments of inequity in both Spanish and English. During a remarkable interview between Ruiz and FAN CLUB last year, she outlined the music’s intent pretty fervidly:
“Our bands exist to inspire and motivate us all to confront issues of racism, classism, queer phobia, police brutality, capitalism, and masculinity in our community. All of our songs are in direct response to institutionalized injustices.” – Victoria Ruiz (21st March, 2014)
The songs are categorically “punk,” but beyond this they incorporate elements of 1970s No Wave (including some of the best tenor sax phrases since the Contortions), dance-music and protest folksong. There is even a cover of “Poder Elegir” by the ’80s Chilean synth-rock group, Los Prisioneros, featured as Full Communism‘s closing track. The band’s musical animosity channels a frustration felt by millions across the country, from Providence, RI (home-base for Downtown Boys) to San Jose, CA. Ruiz moved from the Sunshine State for school in New York, and found herself working as a Public Defender in Rhode Island. But Downtown Boys are a true motley of social-political activists, with co-lyricist, vocalist, and guitarist Joey L DeFrancesco fighting for increased unionization and against police brutality. It has been a long year, for both causes—but not long enough. The opening song, “Wave of History” marks the Downtown Boys conquest for change: “I can’t hear maybes… on the wave of history you can’t look back,” speaks to the cyclical nature of immigration policy (often in the form of endless deportation following temporary work status). The most electrifying track, though, is “Monstro”—its blend of optimism regarding racial identity in America and lurid xenophobic imagery has become a hallmark for bands like Downtown Boys. Moreover, live performances of the song (which I have had the good fortune of witnessing) are unmatched in rousing a unique air of compassionate frustration amongst show-goers. These moments expose the band for what they really are. Revolutionary.
Fellow comrades of the Downtown Boys, you can find the album for sale at Don Giovanni Records. Alternatively, you can listen to it on their Bandcamp.