In his recent profile of indie rock supergroup Boygenius, Uproxx’s Steven Hyden noted that the Voltron-esque formation by three of the best songwriters going is less of a vision into indie’s future vitality than it is a reflection of the current times. “While sexism continues to pervade the music business, it’s hardly unique in 2018 for women to take a leading role in bands, or even to fill every role in a band,” he wrote. “All-female bands aren’t “the future” of indie, they’re the present.”
The same can, or at least should, be said of Los Angeles’ The Tracks, a group made up of first-generation Americans, all children of undocumented immigrants like the many whose stories have become major points of debate during the Trump administration. Just this week, the United States is sending thousands of troops to the border to block a mass immigration, attempting to use force to stop the kind of refugee process that has been an integral part of Californian, and American, history for hundreds of years. It’s the cultural climate that makes the music and stories of those facing the most oppression — Black people, women, immigrants and the children of immigrants, the LGBTQ community — feel like the music and stories that need to be heard. And it’s through this lens that The Tracks debut album feels like an essential release.
Of course, none of this would matter as much if the music wasn’t really great. For the last couple years, the four-piece made up of frontman Venancio Bermudez, guitarist Johnny Santana, bassist Felipe Contreras, and drummer Jimmy Conde, have been impressing crowds with furious live shows across their home city, walking the tightrope between polished juggernaut and untamed beast, well-practiced and tight when they need to be and unhinged and wild when they don’t. It’s a spirit that is very much present on the debut album, Treasured Memories, which pulses with blood and drips with sweat in a manner that few debuts are able. It’s the sound of a band with day jobs and obligations using their art to try to build better lives for themselves and everyone around them. It’s a story as old as rock and roll itself.
A key part of what makes The Tracks resonate is the voice of Bermudez. It’s easy to hear the influence of the patron saint of Chicano musicians, Morrissey, in his delivery, as well as the rock revivalism of The Strokes. Bermudez manages to punch up the theatrical mania he undoubtedly grew up listening to without coming across like a throwback himself. And for his backing band’s part, they play along with the influences, coming across like the audio equivalent of a leather jacket and pomade, turning a sense of style into a well-rounded aesthetic.
But the band is hardly style over substance. Album opener “Go Out Tonight” is a propulsive barnburner, taking a slow-building intro through the roof as Bermudez’s booming baritone takes control of the song’s steaming locomotive. Like most of The Tracks’ songs, it’s less about a catchy chorus than it is about energy, direction, and unexpected hooks. They are comfortable in the romantic jangle and handclap frenzy of “Hanging On,” a song whose Smiths influence can be heard in the disparity between the bouncy arrangement and the song’s subject of finding hope despite being written when Bermudez was homeless. And they are at ease in the more straight-ahead rock of “Pick Me Up,” which finds Bermudez inhabiting a similar muscle-car-radio vibe as The Walkmen managed on their early albums. The analogs never feel distracting, with the sheer quality of the songwriting making up for any aspect of the craft that might feel overtly familiar.
The Tracks’ debut album is also the sound of a torch being passed. Bermudez is the son of a mariachi but his music fully moves on from that traditional musical form. Still, if any single emotion ties everything together on the album, it is urgency. It’s the urgency of young men who’ve lived a hard life and know to make their moment count. It’s the urgency of Latin Americans who don’t know where their own country is headed and how much longer they have until their whole way of life comes crashing down. It’s the urgency that many of the voices that have dominated indie rock for the past couple decades couldn’t possibly convey out of sheer privilege or just ambivalence.
Some might not always appreciate music that reflects the times it was made — but The Tracks serve as a reminder of the rebellious spirit that rock and roll was founded on. In a time where festivals are largely turning away from the genre and a thousand thinkpieces have been launched celebrating its demise, The Tracks reclaim it in the name of the marginalized. It’s in this light that The Tracks aren’t just succeeding for their rousing, raised-fists exuberance, but because they sound like music for this moment in time, from this moment in time. It’s “the ticking grenade of being poor,” Bermudez told LA Taco a couple years back, talking about their debut album, “that constant reminder that your time is running out.” Treasured Memories captures the pulled pin and the eventual explosion, the shrapnel spray of a young band daring to be great.
Treasured Memories is out now. Get it here.