Rx Bandits - Mandala
Record Label: Sargent House
Release Date: July 21, 2009
It might be easy to identify Rx Bandits as a chameleon, seeing how much change they have gone through both in terms of their music and band personnel. However, it might be more accurate to suggest that Rx Bandits are simply an entirely different breed altogether. Fine-tuning their sound more than David Bowie changed his hair style, Rx Bandits have transformed themselves into more than just an ordinary band -- they are "ear art," which is to imply that what your eyes cannot visually locate, your ears do... and they send all that delicious candy to every other sense in your body. Go ahead. Don't be afraid. Taste it, baby. Goes down oh-so smoo-hoo-ooth.
After nearly 15 years and seven albums, you can expect a massive dose of growth from this Southern California group that spent much of the earlier half of the millennium overshadowed by their Drive-Thru peers. With each release, the Bandits have developed a fuller, more progressive sound; a sound that was at first influenced by ska & metal, and later became groove-oriented, before finally settling on the entire frame of every instrument that went into creating an entire song. It isn't just about hooks and snap with the Bandits -- they want to hit you from all sides with everything they've got. Literally. RXB are creating music that is meant to be listened to.
After a four-year wait that witnessed more band members leave and even more artistically-defined side projects release material, Matthew Embree & company have made their first completely Reines-free album, the aptly-named Mandala, which not only sounds profound and more enigmatic -- but more importantly, it continues to push the band's creative boundaries to their limits, just to see how much they can test them before they break. Working with producer Chris Fudurich, whom the band worked with on Progress and The Resignation, the album was recorded live and sounds lush & completely captivating. Every member contributes their best work with a bit of swagger and lot of feeling. Motivational speaking? Who needs it when you can just put on the jaunty rhythms of Rx Bandits and feel better in less than an hour!
Mandala is an odd mix of familiarity with something completely different; the horn section has all but been abandoned in favor of a transcendent euphoria that opening cut "My Lonesome Only Friend" captures perfectly. Like a calm before the storm, the song brews up something fierce in four minutes before the waves settle, preparing for another hit. Despite the hornless sound ("Bury it Down Low," however, is classic RXB), the reggae/ska rhythms are all still present, driving every track like a locomotive ("Hearts That Hanker For Mistake") with a hint of Hammond organ floating in the background. The sonic calamity is a fascinating blend of Indian melody ("Hope is a Butterfly...") and calypso percussion (Chris Tsagakis sounds better every record), and as the album cover suggests, there is a sense of peaceful tyranny to the entire record. "Breakfast Cat" is a hurricane of bass & non-stop pulsating drumbeats that wrap around the song like a python. Not surprisingly, it sounds like the second-cousin to "Dinna-Dawg" off 2003's The Resignation.
As it all fuses together, Mandala is the Bandits' most globally-scoped record, enhanced by the unified lyrics that speak of self-confession and soul bearing over a very Mediterranean-based rhythm section that plays like a well-orchestrated jam band (check out the Latin-tinged "Mientras la Veo Sonar," and that organ/drum finale). The music is doing the talking here (and, at times, Embree's lyrics reflect that), and every piece is working together, in unison. Like the river Nile, it flows with beauty and grace, working toward a larger goal than merely what your eye-line can see. Mandala isn't meant to be skipped over; this is an album that intentionally strings itself together, twisting and turning, leading the listener on a trip that is both turbulent & composed. Hell, there is so much going on with Mandala, recommending it in your own words seems rather trivial. This is the kind of album that begs for expensive headphones in order to truly listen to all it's lovely value.
It might be difficult for longtime fans to understand what the band is going for, because in a day & age of studio-based bands, hearing something so focused & organic (not to mention talented) is a chore to get through. Mandala goes down easier with every 53 minutes it bum-rushes through, and while longtime admirers might have to get past the fact that the Bandits no longer stick to some basic formalities concerning structure, the patience is well-worth the payoff. "May this harmony create a sanctuary for escape," Embree sings. Mandala seems like a good place to hide.
This review is a user submitted review from Chris Fallon. You can see all of Chris Fallon's submitted reviews here.
i loved their last album, which was had some fun choruses that were pretty easy to get into.
this album however is so ridiculously hard to get into, as soon as i feel it picking up and going somewhere they go somewhere else, and it gets really confusing and hard to feel.
i've listened to it about three times so far. and a few songs i like, but this is going to take some time to get into for real.