In March of next year, Chicano Batman will release Freedom Is Free—a blistering, politically-charged throwback that blends What's Going On-era Marvin Gay, "Why Can't We Live Together" style Timmy Thomas, and the unapologetic brashness of James Brown's "Say It Loud: I'm Black and I'm Proud." In short, the band has gone full Gil Scott-Heron. You'd be forgiven if you didn't see it coming. When they came bursting out of L.A. in '08 clothed in vintage formal wear and ruffled tuxedo shirts, playing breezy Brazilian Tropicalía mixed with early '70s psychedelic soul and romantic pop, there wasn't much about the band, much less their name, that presaged this.
But here we are. It's the tail-end of what, by all accounts, has been a truly terrible fucking year. And given recent events, things are poised to get worse. The times, to quote Bob Dylan, theeyaareachngun. And Chicano Batman are changing with them.
As such, Freedom Is Free, marks a change both stylistically and thematically. "It's a counterpoint to the propaganda catch phrase that was invented by the US government during the first Iraq war," says Bardo Martinez—the band's lead vocalist, guitar, organ, of the latter—from his LA home. "It's a counter-narrative…the song itself relates to the idea that freedom is inherent to every individual on this planet and in the universe."
Musically, in addition to ruffling the feathers of the state on songs like "The Taker Story," the album represents the band's decision to bring the soul and R&B elements of their sound to the fore. To achieve their ambitious sonic goals, the quartet worked with producer Leon Michels in his Diamond Mine Recording studio in Long Island City, New York. Michels, a veteran in the New York soul revival scene, has performed in Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, The Black Keys, andThe Menahan Street Band. His funky fingerprints are all over the album—he tracked the whole thing on analog tape, and contributed keyboards and his trademark horn arrangements.
The first single off of Freedom, the band's third album and ATO records debut, is "Friendship (Is A Small Boat In A Storm)," an organ-driven soul jam with buzzing, psychedelic guitar that doesn't wade too deeply into political waters. On it Bardo's lyrics, delivered in his uniquely dreamy/romantic style, are bolstered by the backing vocals of New York's all-female Mariachi Flor de Toloache. The video—which Noisey is pleased to premiere below—was directed by Alan Del Río Ortiz, who's worked with Solange, Major Lazer, St. Vincent, Blood Orange, among others.
"This is a song of betrayal at its most mundane," says Bardo. "It's about the trials and tribulations of friendship and also a personal reflection on the painful realities of human relationships."
The video follows a series of documentary style tableaus that relate to friendship and betrayal, each scene highlighting the aftermath of a friendship, or depicting the moment a friendship begins to sour. In it, Bardo and his bandmates Carlos Arévalo (Guitar), Eduardo Arenas (Bass, vocals), and Gabriel Villa (Drums, percussion) are dressed in their signature suits. Because some things just shouldn't change.
Pre-order Freedom Is Free here. Check out the video below.
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Photo by Josue Rivas