Chicano Batman released Invisible People on May 1st, just in time for Cinco de Mayo. While the band’s moniker comes from the Chicano movement, a force for Mexican-American empowerment, on this record the band makes a statement for everyone. On their Bandcamp page, they write: “It is a statement of hope, a proclamation that we are all invisible people, and that despite race, class, or gender we can overcome our differences and stand together.”
There is a lot of meaning hidden in the phrase “invisible people.” It implies that by being invisible to each other our differences would cease to exist. At the same time, forced social isolation has made many of us feel as though we are disappearing. The streets are empty. Friends and family are separated. How are we supposed to enjoy ourselves, by ourselves? Despite these mixed feelings, Batman calls for us to focus on future unity.
Invisible People is a joyous, funky album that drums up good memories and visions of sunnier days. Chicano Batman has updated their sound to be more modern, even more mainstream-friendly. But those changes shift the focus only slightly.
The band retains their tropical, nostalgia-tinged synthesizers and muted strumming guitar, but trade in some of their minimalist bent for rich polyphony. Jumpy synth keys, psychedelic guitar solos, and punchy bass lines bob and weave. Songs like “Color my Life” and “Moment of Joy” play out in warm, fuzzy daydreams, a thick synth floats above like marshmallow clouds. On “Manuel’s Story”, which tells the story of a man’s narrow escape from a murderous cartel, that fluffy synth turns stormy, fueling tension over a throbbing bass.
Other songs look happily toward an imagined global collapse. A bright guitar, Bardo Martinez’s voice, and bass all converge on the chorus melody in “Pink Elephant”: “The skyscrapers are tall / What you gonna do when they fall?” Later in the song, Martinez handles a seemingly cumbersome lyric — “Extremely fucking dangerous and hostile” — with surprising ease. The album’s juxtaposition of poppy, upbeat instrumentation along with dark lyrics serves as a comforting reminder to prepare for the worst, hope for the best.
It couldn’t come at a better time. With the masses homebound, it is a slice of optimistic paradise aimed not at idle despair, but at acceptance and forward movement. On “Blank Slate,” Chicano Batman seems to address quaran-times: “The past is done with, the present is now / what will we do with the time that we have? / How will we bring back the love that we had?” It might be a simple love song, but it is one that speaks to the desire to reconnect this fractured world.
With Invisible People, Chicano Batman creates an album that delicately mixes sweet summery tunes with serious lyrical matter. To fuse apocalyptic themes and longing love songs is a difficult, even absurd proposition. However, the result is a concoction that provides comfort in chaos. This record is rooted in the present, but draws on memories to remind us the future remains bright.