One idea kept bubbling up as the sounds of Kingston punk quartet El Front came bleeding through my ear buds. The idea was sincerity—not to be confused by its overbearing, humorless cousin, earnestness. On its debut manifesto El Front brings the sincerity, fiery playing, and imaginative arrangements front and center and refreshingly checks the deep irony at the door. Inspired by his travels in Latin America and subsequent exposure to the radical left south of the Equator, songwriter/guitarist Matty Dread's songs brim with anger and rebelliousness. In the hands of less-skilled musicians, the brash sloganeering on some of the more breakneck songs might come off as heavy-handed rhetoric. But El Front is more than a one-trick pony and the band of Dread, Lima Charlie (guitar), Warren Terror (bass), and Loren Order (drums) and the playful diversity of music could make an anarchosocialist of even Grover Norquist.
El Front is not shy about wanting to evoke the cross-culture mash-ups of touchstones like Sandinista!-era Clash, the Ruts, and the kindred roots-reggae flourishing during the very same period. This is a punk rock where horn charts, warm electric organ, melodica, and dance grooves go safety pin-in-jacket with choppy, distorted power chords. The 21 songs are strung together with vinyl-sourced sound clips of revolutionary speeches, B movies, and the original Star Trek. Hell, even Zorba the Greek makes an appearance! The instrumentation, sound bytes, and alternating Spanish/English vocals layer the grooves nicely and invite repeated listening. Also, big thumbs up for the creative liner notes.