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Downtown Boys' Full Communism:
Reviewed, Revered, Whatever, IDGAF
/ by Suzy Exposito

In the wake of the Baltimore Uprising, it’s more apparent than ever that we’re living in a unique political moment — or is it? Over 50 years since the Civil Rights Act passed in the United States, the anti-black, Jim Crow mentality doesn’t seem to have gone anywhere, enforced insidiously through racial profiling, housing discrimination, mass incarceration and “justifiable homicide.” Indigenous lands and communities have been ravaged by corporate greed. Entire families, many political refugees, sit in US immigrant detention centers from weeks to months to years, stuck in legal limbo where they are routinely abused with impunity. Riding in on what they call this “wave of history” is Providence six-piece Downtown Boys, whose riotous clamor matches the increasingly brackish tides of the times.

Equipped with a standard, punchy 4-piece ensemble, two tenor saxophones and the fire of a thousand Dolores Huertas, Downtown Boys gladly rain on any apathetic punk parade. Politics are completely inextricable from the band, and most especially its members. While a few have done time in the radical leftist marching band What Cheer? Brigade, others break their backs as union organizers, or even flirt with internet fame. Some may recall the band’s 2014 7-inch release, which bestowed gloriously haphazard jams like “Callate” and “Slumlord Sal.” (Not to mention the glitter-laden, bare-chested, cop-slapping splendor of the latter’s music video.) Recorded by Greg Norman (Guided By Voices, Hunters, Kim Deal) at Electrical Audio in Chicago, their full-length debut, Full Communism sees Downtown Boys considerably tightening their technique, streamlining their political dance punk party into a more strategic, political offensive.


Full Communism isn’t just an eye-catching album title, or a widely circulated leftist meme on Tumblr. It’s a command. The album kicks off with “Wave Of History,” a potent call to action, punctuated by screams of “NECESSITY.” In the animated video, the words “know your enemy, know your context” unravel sweetly across the screen in Coca-Cola script, followed by a stream of unsettling infographics on a country divided and defined by racism. (Said graphics are by one of this website’s editors, Faye Orlove.) “I can’t hear maybes,” cries frontwoman Victoria Ruiz, “Not one step back / On the wave of history!”

In other words, put down your fucking beer and face the music. Think of the day when the next generation of young people will get suckered into studying the hellworld that is the United States in 2015. Will this year be a good one? Or will it be our downfall? Oh god, will you become the Wingnut Conservative Uncle in a Bald Eagle Tee who says really embarrassing things at family cookouts? On which side of history do you want to be? The frenzy is tempered, but not broken, by tenor sax duo Adrienne Berry and Emmett FitzGerald, who nimbly alternate between and free-form freak outs and slow-burning groans. Guitarist Joey L. DeFrancesco hammers out the ominous, no wavey clangs that precede “Tall Boys,” a punishingly speedy cry for for the heads of tall, grabby men who are entitled to take up too much space at punk shows. (And yes, haters — it’s almost always men. Ask Iris Marion Young.) You can almost hear Ruiz pummeling through a sea of stubborn, unyielding elbows as she shrieks, “You think you’re wild? You spoiled child!” The sax duo caws sassily along as drummer Norlan Olivo works double-time, unleashing his inner skate punk superhero in those d-beats.


So what happens when we begin to recuperate that space we’re starved for? Enter “Monstro,” Ruiz’s manifesta for those of us routinely passed over for accolades and job opportunities; those of us who had to unlearn Spanish in grade school, for fear of ridicule (or detention); those of us who will get cred-checked and hyper-scrutinized for the rest of our lives because of how we look or speak; those of us afraid to ask for better.

When we enter these new spaces of privilege, whether it’s an office job or a university, we’re often forced to accommodate even more; to just be happy to be there, happy to be the exception to the rule. Ruiz uses “we” to communalize her own experiences of exclusion, warmly beckoning the societal misfits and monsters into the safe haven of those three minutes and 45 seconds. The whole band dovetails into a triumphant crescendo, and for a moment there, the world feels just a little bit more welcoming.

“Today, today we must scream at the top of our lungs that we are brown, we are smart, that nothing that they do can push it away!”

Of the band’s many standout elements, perhaps the most contentious is Ruiz’ decision to sing in both English and Spanish. Appealing to a wider audience by language is a no brainer for many bands — it’s just that most bands take up English in order to sound more “universal” and propel their music beyond their home countries. (Thank you, UK imperialism and US exceptionalism!) But especially given the current political climate, and Ruiz’s own existence as a bilingual, mixed-race Latina, her use of Spanish in a largely white, anglo-dominated genre does not only shrink the valley that separates punks in the US and Latin America; it is an act of defiance. (Not to minimize the existing efforts of US-based, Spanish-language punk bands like Los Crudos, Sin Orden and many others.) It was only predictable, however infuriating, that a Pitchfork reviewer from Arizona, otherwise known as the Ground Zero of anti-Latinx legislation and repression, would flippantly dismiss her lyrics because they were in Spanish.


The band arrives full circle by the album’s end, offering a couple of crucial throwback covers that bear testament to the band’s success in crafting a borderless, cross-cultural appeal. First comes a spirited cover of “Poder Elegir,” or “Power To Choose,” by Chilean rock trailblazers Los Prisioneros. It was Los Prisioneros’ infectious blends of punk, reggae and dance pop that roused the masses in resisting the US-supplanted dictator Augusto Pinochet. (Which is why their music was subsequently banned until the end of his reign.) The record ends with an ode to working-class hero Bruce Springsteen: a cover of “Dancing In The Dark,” bolstered by a resounding chorus of gang vocals and jazzy accents from the brass section. (Do I love thee, brass section.)

At the end of the day, it’s hard to engage with Downtown Boys as just a band; it’s a political mission to affirm entire communities run down by the state in its various manifestations, from white supremacy, to heteropatriarchy, to capitalism. If we want to prevail over these things — much less survive them — we must all recognize that we should not need permission to live. And we should not need permission to thrive and be safe and happy. You’ve heard the call. You are the surge. Now what in the everloving fuck are you gonna do about it?

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