When a song feels deeply visceral, it’s often because its subject matter is painfully real — and once a serious backstory is publicly divulged, it marks a turning point in the listening experience. Once you’ve learned about the making of “Hanging On,” the new single from Los Angeles act The Tracks released today, there’s absolutely no going back.
In October of last year, frontman Venancio Bermudez told L.A. Taco he’d written it during a period of homelessness. Confronted with an ultimatum from his mom — it’s “either god or music,” he said — he found himself living a harsh reality of the latter. But, like so many other times in his life, Bermudez was unrelenting. Struggling to sleep in a chicken coop, the song’s titular refrain was his mantra; he shuffled between electronics and guitar stores, demoing music in pieces on a cassette recorder — bits of which we’ll ultimately hear on The Tracks’ debut LP, out next year. All the while, he was working in stifling and probably illegal conditions at a tortilla factory.
So when Bermudez gradually ascends from a smooth croon to a wailing intensity in the nearly three minutes of “Hanging On,” the final rounds of “keep me hanging on, keep it hanging on” really sting — but they empower, too.
This isn’t to tokenize the difficulties Bermudez or his bandmates had in East LA as children of undocumented immigrants. Bermudez in particular, because he’s most often the spokesperson, makes a point to show how the institutionalized poverty and bigoted immigration policies that have affected his life drive the songwriting.
The opening drums of “Hanging On” echo the opening kickoff of “Lust for Life,” and like that iconic Iggy Pop song, this Tracks number could easily fly over your head as cheery — it’s not. With a grip on where Bermudez is coming from, its recurring clap-along feel less like a party and more like a powerful rally of dissent from the unjust status quo. “Hanging On” is about survival, and for The Tracks — and for so many other marginalized folks and communities — that endurance is a protest in itself.