Chicano Batman return with more soul on their third album, Freedom Is Free.ATO Records, 2017
7.2 / 10
Chicano Batman saw that gleaming bat signal in the sky and knew it was time to release their third album. Their latest comes our way via ATO Records. It’s the same label that gave us Alabama Shakes’ Sound and Color and most recently Hurray for the Riff Raff’s The Navigator. I mention those two albums because Freedom Is Free reminds of them while also being completely different. Freedom Is Free boasts a wide-ranging sonic spectrum with lots of instrumentation and backup singers behind Chicano Batman’s four members. Do the backing musicians also don vintage formal wear like Chicano Batman’s members? Unfortunately, we don’t get that answer. However, if you ask me whether or not Freedom Is Free is good, the answer is an emphatic ‘yes.’
While their previous two albums were already sonically diverse, Chicano Batman knew an ingredient was missing. It was in dire need of more soul to give it an extra romantic personality. The kind that lingers in a room long after it’s gone. Just who was that person? I can’t stop thinking about them. Yeah, you get that same feeling with Freedom Is Free. It comes almost immediately with album opener, “Passed You By”. The band’s guitar work bears a similarity to fellow ATO Records band My Morning Jacket. Sunny backing vocals shine through a dusty, retro haze. The song packs a soulful, romantic punch that you can’t help but enjoy.
Most of the album’s songs follow a theme of maintaining a positive outlook and being a good person. In this respect, the album’s title track serves as the anthem for these friendly vibes. Frontman Bardo Martinez sings about how others take happiness for granted and choose to be cold. Bardo expresses an opposite view as he sings, “And while I’m here on earth/ I’ll rejoice in it’s worth.” One thing keeping Bardo’s happiness strong is the love for his daughter. He pays tribute to her on “Angel Child”. Instead of being overly cheesy, it has a funky, psychedelic boogie to it. His voice croons with a gentle falsetto as he sings, “You’re my angel.” Hopefully she appreciates it and isn’t like, “DAD! What if a boy hears this?”
Chicano Batman do strand occasionally from the cheery aesthetic for one more serious. On “La Jura”, you could say the message gets lost in translation for the non-Spanish listeners. However, it’s a song about police brutality sung by bass player Eduardo Arenas. The music takes a more somber tone as it recalls a terrible moment where the police murdered one of Arenas’ friends. Although not as heavy as “La Jura”, “Friendship (Is A Small Boat in a Storm)” details betrayal from friends. Ask anyone what they notice immediately about this song, and it’s the organ. It squeals for your attention. As if the person committing the betrayal behind the song is in a headlock; screaming to get free. However, listeners won’t be screaming to get free from Chicano Batman’s latest album. Until next time, same bat time, same bat channel.