Critical Voices 2.0: RX Bandits’ Mandala
If you had been introduced to RX Bandits around eight years ago, you would have been blown away by the band’s ability to mesh so perfectly the varying styles of ska, reggae, and progressive rock into their 2001 release, Progress. If you waited two more years and heard The Resignation, you’d find yourself questioning how exactly you could label such a band.
By 2006, this six piece band released what is possibly the most confusing “ska” record that has ever hit my ears, exceeding all expectations, and finding themselves once again in the realm of progress. As vocalist Matthew Embree truthfully sings on “White Lies” off of their July 21st release, Mandala, “I ain’t going to sing the same old songs again.” It’s readily apparent, Matthew, that you’d never let that happen.
Following the path of the past three albums, Mandala was recorded completely live, often a concept that seems great in theory but falters in actuality. Luckily, the RX Bandits thrive as a live band. Despite the intense progressive rock nature of the music being played, listeners will never be overwhelmed.
The biggest progression for the band on this album is their ability to cope with loss and still come out on top. Most notable for their ska roots, the Bandits always had at least two dudes on horns backing up their blissful smooth jams or their onslaught of triplet, stuttery soloing. But on Mandala, the horns are gone, making it even harder to associate this band with their defining genre.
“My Lonesome Only Friend” opens the album with infectious riffs and choruses and allows listeners to hear the album’s first use of the organ. Probably the least complex song on the album, the opener may do nothing but display things to come, but it plays the role of teaser well.
The vibe seems consistent up until the fifth track, “Mientras La Veo Sonar” where Spanish influence is abundant, and the language itself is used back and forth between passages. Catering to a Mars Volta-esque song structure, the song seems remote and quaint and expectations aren’t set too high. But once the halfway mark on the track comes, listeners are greeted with an incredibly discordant but smooth organ/guitar solo that can be best described as slightly out of focus.
The RX Bandits can still fit the general rule of ska music being the soundtrack to summer. Their unnecessarily long-titled “Hope Is a Butterfly, No Net Its Captor, She Beats Her Wings and Softly Sings of Summer Scent and Childrens Laughter” best describes their take on this concept. One of their most structurally standard songs, the guitars still embrace a slight discordance, and the natural Fender Stratocaster tone rings out like it was always meant to. The slight influence of blues concepts is easy to discern, but so is their intentional bastardization.
“Breakfast Cat” begins sounding like a modern metal song, with pounding snare and palm-muted triplet guitars, but immediately diverges into something much more. Embree’s soul-filled voice echoes while the music behind him plays like a young child with ADD. The time signatures and tone change, but the song remains consistent in its end goal.
For more infectious choruses and unique guitar stylings over song structures that simply don’t mean to make sense, closing track “Bring Our Children Home or Everything is Nothing” is sure to satisfy.
RX Bandits came into the scene playing the kind of third-wave ska initiated by bands like Sublime. Currently, they’ve managed to create a sound completely their own, and it seems as if we may have a fourth-wave on our hands. Mandala is an expression of all the best things from the Mars Volta mixed with the ability to get to the point a little quicker and with a little more style. It’s simply infectious.
Check out the song with the incredibly long name over at RX Bandits’ MySpace, and pick up the album when it comes out this upcoming Tuesday.