Progressive thoughts on RX Bandit’s ‘Mandala’

The RX Bandits’ career exemplifies that of a band in progressive music.  Originally known as the Prescription Bandits, but adopted the RX it had become their nickname, they released a ska record titled, Those Damn Bandits, which is very hard to come by, then continued with Halfway between Here and There.

Following these two underground hits the Bandits release the aptly named Progress in 2001, ushering in a change for the bands sound and line-up.  The departure of trombonist and back-up vocalist Rich Balling signaled in a more rock and politically conscious sound that used fast paced guitar riffs to entrance listeners instead of catchy brass breakdowns.

Two albums, a number of side-projects (see Love You Moon, Satori, and The Sound of Animals Fighting), a few more changes to the bands line up, and countless tours later, Mandala is released on lead singer Matt Embree’s record label.

This is a large jump from 2001 to 2010 without much explanation, especially considering the extraordinary difference between Progress and Mandala.  Even their 2006 release And the Battle Begun… sounds significantly different from their newest album.  However, the early back story of the band tells the tale of this album better than anything else.

Mandala exemplifies all of the change that this band went through musically; starting out as a young and intense, less technical, band progressing to a band whose sound maintains the same intensity, but expresses an intricate knowledge of music theory.

Guitarist Steve Choi is simply flawless and, at times, virtuoso with the speed and clarity of his line.  Matt Embree’s lyrics still echo that of a heart broken addict blurring the lines between love and addiction.

The creativity and political messages remain the same, but now the music has solidified as a fusion of soul, punk, and progressive.  The repetitive arpeggio climbs on a number of tracks does leave a little bit of stale taste and attempt at an alternative sound at times feels like a stretch to make the music more than it is.

Soon the Bandits will begin touring again, playing whole albums as a set in order to project them as an experience with one unified sound, which is what Mandala does so well and at the same time displays what the RX Bandits have struggled with for so long; progression and settling.

RIYL:  The Sound of Animals Fighting, Portugal. The Man

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