The name says it all. Chicano Batman has arrived to save us from ourselves and from the suspicion and doubt that would divide us, as they reveal the light one song at a time. Like the caped crusader himself, they despise injustice, and are on a quest to combat it at every turn. But unlike our famed superhero, Chicano Batman has chosen funk riffs and soulful organs to wield against the darkness, front man Bardo Martinez supplying the soaring vocals that destroy any hesitation of what they truly are – the harbingers of the message: “Freedom is Free.”
On the band’s third full-length, “Freedom is Free,” Chicano Batman comes fully into their own, exploring a great swath of influence and sound. As a result, the four-piece from Los Angeles feels completely at home on the record, incorporating various styles into an idiosyncratic but oddly familiar sound, playing on elements of soul, funk, latin, Brazilian tropicalia, and psychedelia as they journey through themes of friendship, liberation, identity, and oppression. In the midst of these effortless grooves, Chicano Batman easily floats between English and Spanish, creating a new idea of what it means to be “American” in the age of Trump and xenophobia, determined to demolish the barriers we’ve put up against each other and ourselves
Building off of their past releases, Chicano Batman seems to have realized the potential of the genre fusion and playful energy that has come to define them. This power is especially apparent on standout tracks “Friendship (Is A Small Boat In A Storm)” and “La Jura.” On “Friendship,” a rich, sonorous organ pulls us right in to the catchy song, soon launching us into a chorus that features an energetic choir belting the refrain while Martinez laments the most unstable features of relationships in a thick falsetto. The song effortlessly bounces between various parts, a feat that Chicano Batman is incredibly adept at, never relenting the energy that the song starts off with.
With “La Jura,” Martinez addresses police brutality on a Spanish-language track thick with lament for the senseless violence gracing the headlines in the last years. Amidst a slow beat and a screaming organ, Chicano Batman wades dutifully into the darkness until about halfway into the track. This is when they dive into a soaring groove, nimbly emerging out of it for a final foray into emotion. Soon the band slips into a somber ending, the street lights flickering out on an eerily quiet night in the city.
Chicano Batman is at their best when they’re locked in the groove of the music, playing off each other’s riffs with a childlike ease, seemingly grinning with each organ note and creamy guitar lick. They are resurrecting the sounds of the past and loving every minute of it. Tracks like “Right Off the Back” are the pinnacle of their sound, and one is left a little wanting when the groove fades out after just over a minute of ecstatic power. But the band seems content to trade in some of their raw energy for the slow grooves and soft edges that dominate many of their tracks. The band seems to be trying to please a wide audience with “Freedom is Free,” though each side may be left wanting a little more.
Still, the balance and poise that Chicano Batman demonstrates on “Freedom is Free” is exceptional. They play effortlessly with style while injecting the world with their own personal brand of sunny, vintage soul and funk, showing off their chops in the process. If this album is a sign for the future, then this particular hue of funky freedom is looking very bright indeed.